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Cronyism and Corruption Gave Us Today's CIA

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Editor’s note: Below is an excerpt — Chapter 9: “The Sword and the Scale” — from the book “The Watchdogs Didn’t Bark: The CIA, NSA, and the Crimes of the War on Terror,” by Ray Nowosielski and John Duffy. Listen to the authors in conversation with Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer in this episode of the podcast “Scheer Intelligence.”

 

THE SWORD AND THE SCALE

“Evil may so shape events that Caesar will occupy a palace, and Christ a cross.”

                                                                                                                      Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

More than three years had passed since the attacks. Two national elections transpired in the interim, a congressional contest in 2002 and a presidential race in 2004. During these campaigns, the voting public were kept in the dark about a number of significant policy changes within the government. Still secret were the domestic electronic surveillance program, the international kidnappings, the secret prisons and torturous interrogations, and the assassinations program. Many significant details had also remained hidden about several agencies’ staggering failures in safeguarding the country before September 11, despite the terror wars dominating the political discussions.

Eventually, a form of accountability began to take shape, though it was not quite what people like the vocal “Jersey Widows” had in mind. With many of the official avenues for righting the ship exhausted, concerned individuals in Washington began to leak like a sieve. The witch hunt that people like George Tenet had hoped to avoid did happen, but in an entirely cynical way. It would be those seeking to tell the truth who were brought to the stake.

During this period, those who had been in the orbit of Alec Station began to receive promotions into true power positions. The agency became “The Rodriguez & Haspel Show,” with Jose making a quick leap from CTC director to take over the CIA’s spies division, taking his chief of staff Gina Haspel with him, who would continue her climb from there.1 This would not instill some people at the agency with much confidence.

Longtime CIA employee Fulton Armstrong explains, “The constant complaint from professionals that are still on the inside is that an entire generation who accepted positions for which they were very generously paid in Afghanistan and Iraq, including do-nothing positions, later inherited the agency and now run the agency. There are a surprising number of graduates of the so-called war on terror, and the Iraq operation, in positions of influence without any background in that region. Institutions always reward these things, and it weakens the institutions.”

After Alec Station, John Kiriakou had moved on to an assignment that saw him giving a daily 7 a.m. briefing inside the CIA’s seventh-floor executive conference room. One day he noticed Rodriguez’s new chief of staff, Gina Haspel,2 sitting at the side of the room as a note taker. Kiriakou knew of her. In the hallway, they called her “Bloody Gina.”

During the briefing, he noticed something he felt was odd in her interchanges with her boss Rodriguez. “They had this almost unspoken understanding. She was his right hand. Nothing romantic, but this very strong mutual respect.” He was struck by it because he “never saw Jose show respect to anybody like that.”

She forcefully took on the role of chief of staff, demanding that people go through her to get to him. Rodriguez’s other allies, including Alfreda Bikowsky, took top spots in the CounterTerrorist Center.3

Bikowsky’s Alec Station was increasingly focused on the assassinations program and potential expanded use of drone technology. Her former boss, Rich Blee, took over Los Angeles station,4 known as the agency’s West Coast headquarters. Alec Station’s founder, Mike Scheuer, had released a book criticizing American foreign policy. When it became a bestseller, he retired to become a regular pundit on cable news. He was now shaping public opinion from the outside, while many of his own loyalists, once referred to as “the Manson Family,” were now running the larger CIA.

“They became, just over the span of a few years, the leadership of the CIA, at least in Operations,” says Kiriakou. “They were all promoted rapidly, in many cases well into the Senior Executive Service (SES). I know of a few that I would consider monsters of human rights who spent virtually their entire careers in Alec Station.”

“To be promoted from GS-14 to GS-15 is a big deal,” continued Kiriakou. “Sometimes people go their entire careers without being promoted to GS-15. But to go from 14 to 15 to Senior Intelligence Service-1, to SES-2, to SES-3, and then 4 over the course of a decade, it’s like somebody going from major or lieutenant colonel to a four-star general in ten years. Unless you’re Colin Powell, it just doesn’t happen.”

Kiriakou had two little boys in Pittsburgh, ages nine and six, who he felt “really needed their dad.”5 Working in a large CIA station inside the domestic United States, he asked his boss if instead of working nine to five, he could work eight to four, allowing him to make a weekly plane trip to Pittsburgh where he could see his sons. He had been denied.

He also learned he would soon be heading back overseas, farther from his kids. A colleague made him aware of an opportunity as a corporate spy for a Big Four accounting firm. He got the job, making double his agency paycheck, and he could visit his kids whenever he wanted.

The night before he was to submit his resignation, Kiriakou lay in bed next to his wife Heather and asked, “Am I doing the right thing? My entire adult life, twelve years, has been with the CIA. Am I making a mistake?”

“No,” she responded, herself a CIA employee. “Your kids are more important. You should go for it.”

His supervisor looked at him like he was crazy when he told her. “You made me choose between my job and my kids,” he explained. “What did you think was going to happen? My kids are going to win every time.”

One day soon after, Heather rang him up from CIA headquarters, where she was working within the analysts division on non-terrorism issues. She asked if her husband wanted to meet for lunch.

They walked into a popular Washington spot, where Bikowsky and several of her female colleagues frequently held court. As the Kiriakous walked in, they found an empty restaurant, with the exception of the “Manson Family.”

“We were seated at the next table,” he says. “They looked at me, and I looked at them, and not a word was spoken.” It was the last time he saw them. It would not be the last time that they saw him.

***

Rossini had worked with George Tenet to help found the National CounterTerror Center (NCTC) at Langley.6 This center was “owned” by the newly created bureaucracy of the Director of National Intelligence. It was a position the NSA’s Michael Hayden had reportedly angled for but was not granted. He had settled into the office’s number two slot.7

At the NCTC, counterterror leadership had come together in one place to work on the problem of preventing future attacks. Rossini sometimes saw Maureen Baginski there. She had left the NSA to help implement the FBI’s intelligence program.8 This may have included aspects of the NSA’s domestic collection, which had expanded beyond telecom companies to use Internet companies as well, employing the same techniques they had with phone calls for email, Internet searches, instant messaging, and more.9 Baginski soon after retired to the private sector.10 Her deputy Chris Inglis would become number two at the NSA, helping run it and its surveillance programs until 2014.11

Mark Rossini’s friend John Miller of ABC News flew into DC to interview for the position of lead media liaison to the FBI. Rossini picked Miller up at Dulles. When Miller was offered the job, he invited Rossini to be his special assistant. Rossini felt he had accomplished all he could at the NCTC. He was ready to return to his home Bureau, and to New York City.12

The FBI’s New York office, long a politically powerful counterbalance to DC headquarters, had been steadily losing that power under Director Mueller. This had begun with the move of Pat D’Amuro to Washington to bring the 9/11 investigation closer to the top executives. There D’Amuro had remained, as executive assistant director for both counterintelligence and counterterror.

John O’Neill’s former loyalists had been attending a succession of good-bye parties. Jack Cloonan made a true retirement to home life in New Jersey. Rossini’s friend Doug Miller was moved to the Buffalo office. Steve Bongardt headed to Quantico to become a profiler and researcher of behavioral analysis, later an instructor, then moving into computer forensic examinations from a laboratory.13

Most of the old crew would have little involvement in the significant counterterror cases going forward. “Pushed out,” was how several referred to it. The FBI’s one-time best and brightest on the issue of Al Qaeda called it a day. By the time D’Amuro returned to the New York office to lead it in 2003, few of those who had worked counterterror under him remained.

In early 2005, D’Amuro saw an opportunity and jumped to the private sector, convincing Ali Soufan to leave as well. Soufan was still young and should have believed he had a bright future at the FBI. Maybe it was the moment he was nominated for an Intelligence Award that was denied by a rare CIA veto, or maybe his private questioning before the Kean Commission that began with investigators asking, “Why does the CIA hate you so much?” Whatever the case, D’Amuro would take Soufan to Giuliani Partners, where they would create the security arm. The former mayor’s attempt at a presidential bid would later find D’Amuro and Soufan leaving to start their own firms.14

D’Amuro got a phone call from Robert Mueller a couple of months after he retired, asking him to return. “You were right about not participating in torture,” Mueller told him. “I need that kind of thinking from a guy like you.” It was not enough. John O’Neill’s former right hand was done with government.15

One senior intelligence official told Seymour Hersh that inside the CIA at that time “the good guys are gone.”16 Perhaps the same could be said for the broader intelligence and law enforcement arenas. Hayden’s people and the Alec Station offshoots, reporting to President Bush, were now in charge.

***

John Helgerson’s report would hang over their heads like an anvil. In late 2004, seventeen agency employees, former and current, received letters informing each that the IG investigation concluded they had failed to “discharge their responsibilities in a satisfactory manner . . . in accordance with a reasonable level of professionalism, skill, and diligence.”17

Each was invited to come to a room at headquarters where they could read the draft report and take handwritten notes. The former counterterror leadership expected to find their names inside. They were shocked, however, to see those of some of their employees.

Mark Rossini says he was unaware, never having heard anyone in counterterror mention it, despite rumors as to what was in the report and who was named for fault. He himself was never allowed to read it. “It was almost as if everyone [in counterterror] knew what was going to be in there, but no one wanted to talk about it,” he speculates. “People probably felt that they knew that no one in that building would ever be held accountable for anything, particularly 9/11.”

That proved to be a good read of the situation. While the American people may have had a strong interest in learning the truth of the matter, multiple leaders of the CIA under two different presidents would see little to be gained by releasing the IG report. That report had been sent back for revisions twice, first by Tenet’s deputy in the period after Tenet resigned,18 then by Tenet’s successor, Porter Goss.19 In a game of Washington musical chairs, though it was House Representative Goss’s committee that had instructed Helgerson to begin his investigation in the first place, once he became CIA director, Goss chose to return the report, requesting that Helgerson soften direct findings of accountability.

Helgerson obliged his director, removing one of the seventeen names and recommending instead that an independent accountability board be convened to assess punishments.20 Goss would not convene that board. Further, he would choose to keep the final report classified, a decision carried forward by the next four CIA directors.21

Apparently, it was public exposure the CIA officers feared, not accountability from leadership. An agency lawyer who had spoken with Jen Matthews about the matter summarized her thoughts. “The worst part was that her children would know [someday]. She would be indelibly tarnished, forever linked to the failures of September 11th.”22

This, too, seemed to be the concern of Cofer Black and Rich Blee, who among others drafted a rebuttal letter to Helgerson. They sent it to the other thirteen employees originally singled out for blame, asking each to provide notes, before they then sent it forward to Helgerson in January 2005. Their central message was that it was inappropriate to include the names of people like Matthews.23

“Overall, we would characterize the draft IG conclusions as unreal,” they began. “We were responsible for the activities of the [CTC] under our watch. To hold more junior officers responsible for the environment they found themselves in, and over which they had no control, would only encourage an environment of risk-aversion or discourage individuals from taking the hard missions.”24

By way of defense for “junior officers” like Bikowsky, they blamed the workload and a stressful work environment resulting from a lack of resources, namely too little funding and staffing. Responding to the failure to watch-list Mihdhar and Hazmi, they pointed outward to foreign CIA stations within the spies division, arguing that “watch-listing was primarily a field function.” They provided only one paragraph by way of attempting to defend their withholding about the hijackers from the FBI. For this they stuck with their old story. “The written record indicates the CIA passed, at least informally, the relevant information to the Bureau,” they rebutted. “Travel information was disseminated by [redacted],” likely a reference to “Rob” stationed at FBI HQ.

They continue, claiming “[T]he Bureau was clearly briefed on the results of [redacted],” this redaction likely referring to the Malaysia summit in January 2000. “In addition, a number of FBI officers—in the Center and at the Bureau—were clearly aware of the information.”

Their defense concluded, “At most, CTC can be faulted for not following through with a formal CIR on al Mihdhar’s visa. This would have left an official record of the information passed to the FBI, although we believe copies were informally sent to the Bureau,” an apparent reference to Bikowsky’s story of having walked it into the J. Edgar Hoover Building. “But, again, CTC clearly intended to share the information with the Bureau, did in fact share information, and did not purposefully withhold anything.”25

In a second letter drafted by the seventeen that June, upon reading the final version of the IG’s report, they tipped their hats to their concern not that they would be held accountable, but that their names would be associated with the failure to prevent the attacks. “It is clear,” they wrote, “that this OIG report may eventually—perhaps sooner than later—be released to the public.” The American taxpayer might someday be allowed to assess the performance of government bureaucrats whose salaries they paid.26

***

Among a long list of activities in which the public was being kept in the dark by the people in their government, perhaps the most sensitive secret of all was that Americans’ electronic communications were being collected and stored, some of which was being analyzed. Because this secret directly affected every US citizen, it would have heavy political fallout when revealed. But that would have to wait.

With the 2004 election over, it began to sink in that the day would come when some of the secret powers they had accumulated might be undone. Cofer Black recognized this as he and his team created the torture program. “Ten years from now, we’re going to be sorry we are doing this,” Black had once stated. “But it has to be done.”27 By the start of 2005, signs were pointing to an earlier arrival, fueled by a surge of leaks to the press.

At the CIA, employees began to wonder what would happen if the general public became aware of their torture program. “Of particular concern,” a senior intelligence official told Douglas Jehl of the New York Times, “is the possibility that CIA officers using interrogation techniques that the government ruled as permissible after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks might now be punished, or even prosecuted, for their actions in the line of duty.”28 Some in the intelligence community rightly believed they were surrounded by secret enemies. Many who had come up inside non–Alec Station parts of the agency were quietly nursing animosity toward their colleagues in counterterror and their unprecedented rise. A growing number had moved to the private sector, where their communications with reporters were far easier and held less potential for repercussion.

A number of CIA officers held a particular grudge toward the quickly advancing Alfreda Bikowsky.29 Her apologists wrote it off as sexism, while her detractors saw her only real strength as being her knack for creating close relationships with key supervisors, first Mike Scheuer, then Rich Blee, then Jose Rodriguez,30 and finally Rodriguez’s replacement as CTC director, Mike D’Andrea.31 Alongside Bikowsky, Rodriguez’s former deputy D’Andrea would remain in the role as head of the CIA’s CounterTerrorist Center, helping run the “war on terror,” for the next decade.32 Among the odd nicknames he would be given by those at the agency were “The Wolf,” “The Undertaker,” and “The Dark Prince.” He was reportedly Bikowsky’s kind of leader. “Those two [Bikowsky and D’Andrea] were thick as thieves,” says one agency source.33

While she had friends in high places, she also had a growing list of people upset over her prior decisions. The intelligence community as a whole was feeling vulnerable, and the sense of a growing number of enemies with the ability to speak to journalists was feeding their paranoia.

***

At the end of 2005, a handful of government insiders and two journalists working for America’s top newspapers would prove out the fears of intelligence management by exposing their biggest secrets and fundamentally turning the tables on their power going forward. The Bush administration’s nightmare began the last week of October, as the Washington Post called to inform them they would be moving forward with a story revealing the existence of the CIA’s black site prisons. The author, Dana Priest, arrived at the White House accompanied by her executive editor Len Downie. There, Vice President Dick Cheney and unnamed National Security Council members attempted to convince them that publishing the story would be dangerous to national security. Downie decided to proceed.

Priest began to unravel the CIA prisons story in late 2002, when a source had informed her about stress and duress techniques being used. Her inside source or sources had allowed her to build to the story throughout 2005, including information that exposed the torture-death of Gul Rahman.34

“I discovered that there was a secret prison run by the CIA in Guantanamo,” explained Priest. “The New York Times reported that there is one in Thailand. Once you knew that the agency and not the military were handling these prisoners, we wanted to know where were they? Well, people were telling us right out that they weren’t in Guantanamo, so where were they?”

On November 2, the Washington Post’s front-page story was headlined “CIA Holds Terror Suspects in Secret Prisons.” It caught the public attention. The next year, Priest would accept the Pulitzer Prize.

Behind the scenes, George W. Bush ordered the CIA to begin moving all prisoners held in black sites to Guantanamo Bay.35 The agency’s power to imprison and interrogate would suddenly be stripped and awarded to the US military. At the same time, Bush began supporting a proposed ban on torture making its way through the Congress. Calling its author, Senator John McCain, to the White House, Bush told McCain that he would agree to sign the bill if McCain would alter some of its language so that CIA officers, if ever charged with a war crime, could offer a defense of having followed a lawful order. McCain agreed, a press conference was held announcing Bush’s support, and the Detainee Treatment Act was signed into law.36

The official use of torture techniques within the US government was over. The Washington Post had managed to do what none of the government’s internal mechanisms had, inducing a swift reversal of the detention and torture programs.

***

The videotapes containing footage of waterboarding and other so-called “enhanced techniques” had been securely kept by Michael Winograd, the CIA station chief in Bangkok. When the Washington Post broke the torture story, Winograd sought permission from Jose Rodriguez to destroy the tapes. Rodriguez granted that permission, passed in a message sent by his second Gina Haspel.37

During the three years in which those torture tapes sat locked in a US embassy safe, there had been an internal discussion at the CIA, that even on occasion reached ears in the White House, as to whether or not the tapes could legally be destroyed. Ultimately, every time the question arose, the final call was that it was probably best to leave the tapes intact.38 The CIA employees in that footage, possibly including certain Alec Station managers, had also lobbied for the destruction of the tapes. Answers from senior agency officials concerning the tapes advised against destroying them.39 Interestingly, Rodriguez himself seemed aware that destroying the tapes would result in political and possibly legal fallout, so before he granted permission to Winograd to do so, he consulted with two agency lawyers. Rodriguez asked CIA lawyers if he had authority to destroy the tapes, and if doing so was legal. They responded in the affirmative. When sending the order to Bangkok through Gina Haspel to destroy the tapes, neither Rodriguez nor Haspel included these lawyers on the message, which is standard protocol.40

Internal emails appear to demonstrate that Rodriguez thought the footage on the tapes was so damning that if it were ever to be made public it would devastate the agency.41 By not including CIA counsel or the director on the cable, Rodriguez and Haspel prevented them from being able to intervene. The attorneys were also spared any liability. With the footage destroyed, the CIA employees and contractors who took part in torturing suspects, allegedly including at times Bikowsky and Matthews, had also been further insulated from accountability.

On the issue, Mark Rossini, who mentioned he liked Rodriguez, said about him, “He’s a fucking lawyer, for Christ’s sake, he should have known better.”

***

Another troubling call came into the White House from another major media outlet, this time the New York Times. They would soon be releasing a story exposing another big state secret, the NSA’s domestic surveillance program. Another meeting followed, with a Times publisher and editor invited to the White House.42 Bush personally explained that they would have “blood on their hands” if they published their story and another terrorist attack occurred. Nonetheless, after having already withheld this story for a year, they plunged forward.

On December 16, 2005, the Times’ front-page story was headlined “Bush Let US Spy on Callers Without Court.” Written by James Risen, it became a milestone in the exposure of the surveillance programs. In the days before the Snowden revelations, such news caused shock waves.

Perhaps the line most closely read by the leadership in Washington was the following: “Nearly a dozen current and former officials, who were granted anonymity because of the classified nature of the program, discussed it with reporters for the New York Times because of their concerns about the operation’s legality and oversight.”

***

On December 17, 2005, second-term president George W. Bush stepped into the Roosevelt Room of the White House to face the press. Officially, he had convoked the meeting to build consensus for the renewal of the USA PATRIOT Act. The timing of the event, however, only a day after the Times’ big scoop, was suggestive of dual intentions. For the first time, the president would be telling the public the story of Khalid al Mihdhar and Nawaf al Hazmi.

“Two of the terrorist hijackers who flew a jet into the Pentagon, Nawaf al Hazmi and Khalid al Mihdhar, communicated while they were in the United States to other members of Al Qaeda who were overseas,” Bush declared. “But we didn’t know they were here, until it was too late.”

The president added, “The activities I have authorized make it more likely that killers like these 9/11 hijackers will be identified and located in time.”43 It was the first time a representative of the US government had used the story of these two hijackers to illustrate the motivation behind broad domestic surveillance. He was no longer denying an intelligence failure had taken place—but, suddenly admitted, it became the reason to empower, not punish, the agency. Bush continued this talking point the next month, now joined by former NSA director Michael Hayden. They also provided what would prove to be highly misleading statements about the program itself.

“The program focuses on calls coming from outside of the United States, but not domestic calls,” Bush claimed. The vice president stated, “Some of our critics call this a ‘domestic surveillance program.’ It is not domestic surveillance.” Hayden appeared at the Press Club, stating, “The intrusion into privacy is also limited: only international calls.”44

Hayden and Bush were inverting the apparent lessons of the September 11 tragedy, keeping details that would contradict their arguments classified secret. It was a nice power to have.

***

The search began immediately for the former and current government officials who had provided the CIA’s and NSA’s big secrets to the major ­newspapers. Inside the Justice Department, Steven Tyrrell, the incoming head of the Fraud Section, was given the “go” to open preliminary criminal investigations, leading a staff of sixty lawyers and thirty support employees.45 The leadership at both agencies affected, the CIA and the NSA, were cooperating enthusiastically. They wanted the leakers found.

At Langley in early 2006, director Porter Goss made unauthorized disclosures to journalists—and the public—one of his top priorities.46 Whether this was at the behest of the Bush administration or of his own accord is unknown. What would come to be a long-term trend, later referred to as a government “war on whistle-blowers,” began quietly and without much debate.

A former officer told the New York Times, “This [is] a very aggressive internal investigation. Goss [is] determined to find the source of the secret jails story.” Goss held no qualms in telling Congress of his desire “that we will witness a grand jury investigation with reporters present being asked to reveal who is leaking this information.”

He assigned the job to a unit known as the Security Center. The obvious place to begin looking was inside John Helgerson’s office. Multiple stories by Dana Priest included revelations that corresponded to information inside the various inspector general reports. Some stories in the New York Times over the same period also seemed to draw from information inside what were still-classified IG reports.

The reports themselves, it should be pointed out, had been read by a number of people at the CIA, as well as the congressional intelligence committees and people at the White House. The Justice Department was also aware of their contents. While it may have been reasonable to suspect Helgerson or his staff, they were certainly not the sole possible point of origin.

For reasons still unknown, the Security Center investigators took a strong interest in one of Helgerson’s former deputies, Mary McCarthy. By then, she had left the CIA to return to a position on the National Security Council. In an unusual move, Goss ordered McCarthy to take a polygraph test.

One day that April, McCarthy was called into a meeting. In fact, it was an interrogation. McCarthy was questioned about apparent inconsistencies in her polygraph examination. Though she and her lawyers have continued to deny it to the present day, according to an account given to the Times, she “confessed.” Due to retire in May after a long career in government, instead, she was stripped of her security clearance, watched as she packed up her office, and escorted out past her colleagues.47

That evening on NBC News, Andrea Mitchell explained, “Now they’ve found someone who was about to retire, and they’re sending a very tough message. The bottom line is that no one is going to have the courage or the stupidity or the will to talk to reporters from now on. Very few people will, because they can see from this example what can happen to you.”48

From the private sector, John Kiriakou remembers learning what had happened to her. He had a great deal of respect for Mary McCarthy and took notice when he read about it in the press. “I thought, ‘Wow, that was gutsy. Good for her, if she did it. If she did, I thought that was really something. But it never occurred to me that I should do it.”49

Mary McCarthy retired to her native Minnesota. Though her dismissal was referred to the Justice Department, no prosecution ever followed.50 The case simply disappeared. A little over two weeks later, so would Porter Goss, who would be replaced as CIA director by the architect of the NSA’s domestic spying program, Michael Hayden. Hayden would choose to continue Goss’ decision to keep the CIA Inspector General’s report about 9/11 classified out of public view, releasing a statement clarifying, “This is not about avoiding responsibility. In fact, the opposite is true. [emphasis his.]” He would be the first in the history of the United States to be director for both the NSA and CIA, holding the new position for the remainder of George W. Bush’s presidency.

***

Meanwhile, the leaks kept coming. Lawrence Wright published an article in the New Yorker, “The Agent,” followed by his book The Looming Tower, naming the recently retired Tom Wilshere for the first time. Thanks to the attention brought by the bestseller list and a Pulitzer Prize, Wright helped set the record straight on those who had worked in the New York FBI as a more accurate version of events leading up to 9/11. This was a matter relished by many now in retirement, the private sector, and the few still at the Bureau.

The leak that stung Rich Blee and Alfreda Bikowsky came in the spring of 2007, as they were nominated for the station chief and deputy positions in Baghdad. In the midst of the Iraq occupation, this was one of the most politically important assignments for the CIA. The astute ladder-climber Bikowsky may have smelled the whiff of advancement surrounding this key Operations position. After Hayden’s arrival as head of the agency, Alec Station had quietly been shuttered after ten years in operation, and Bikowsky had moved up to lead a larger office within CTC called the Global Jihad Unit.

A curmudgeonly antiauthoritarian reporter named Ken Silverstein, Washington editor and blogger for Harper’s Magazine, was contacted by one or more of Blee’s and Bikowsky’s growing secret enemies inside the agency. He reported on this in March 2007, providing criticisms from insiders about her qualifications, resulting in a follow-up story in which a CIA representative claimed she “is neither considering, nor being considered for, service in Iraq.” The story also criticized Blee, who remained anonymous in the article (and in all other press reports at that time).51

As a result of the attention, apparently Blee, too, was removed from consideration for the Baghdad post. Seeing his advancement stalled, Blee retired that year, maintaining a home in Los Angeles.52 Bikowsky would remain, perhaps wondering if the many accusations against her would leave her in middle management for the remainder of her career.

In May, another leak and another story came out, this one in the Baltimore Sun, revealing the history of the NSA’s TrailBlazer program. Hayden surely noticed, as the story contained an allegation of “mismanagement” under his tenure. It explained that this mismanagement drove “into the ground [the] six-year, multibillion-dollar . . . program to adapt the NSA’s collection and analysis capability to the age of digital communications.”53

***

Siobhan Gorman had been publishing a series of reports focused on the NSA since arriving at the Baltimore Sun. Each report revealed details considered sensitive by NSA leadership. Tom Drake, still working inside Fort Meade, had liked the direction of Gorman’s articles. For those working at the NSA, the Baltimore Sun was the paper of record. Drake was also aware of “an even more secret program within StellarWind” designed to monitor members of the news media, and he was aware that Gorman was on that list.54

Diane Roark cautioned Drake to tread carefully as he began using encrypted email to send Gorman information beginning in February 2006. In an account reported by Jane Mayer, Drake established “three ground rules”:

Neither he nor she would reveal his identity.

He wouldn’t be the sole source for any story.

He would not supply her with classified information.55

In early 2007, Drake decided to go to the Baltimore Sun’s building in person, beginning a series of meetings with Siobhan Gorman. He did this openly because he believed he was doing nothing wrong, and he felt certain that he provided nothing classified. He also knew, though, “it didn’t matter that it was all unclassified. I knew it wouldn’t matter to the government. They would find a way to say it was classified.”56 Nonetheless, he proceeded.

When the investigation to find the whistle-blowers who exposed the domestic surveillance program began, Roark had been contacted by the FBI to actually aid in that investigation.57 She agreed, but found in her first meeting with investigators that they were entirely hostile to her. It was then that it occurred to her that they considered her a suspect. As the three-hour meeting progressed and the tone became more friendly, Roark assumed she had eased investigators’ suspicions of her. She heard nothing from them again until the morning of July 26, 2007, when the FBI raided her Oregon home, guns drawn.

Roark knew the law and knew her rights, but she was told the affidavit that justified the raid was classified secret. She suspected the agents had entered her home previously because they knew precisely where to look to gather all the data she had collected about NSA on behalf of her previous employers in Congress. They confiscated many of her personal papers and electronics.

Bill Binney was in his home near Fort Meade when his son answered the door to the sight of twelve gun-toting FBI agents. Heading upstairs, they next pointed their guns at Binney’s wife. Finally they entered his bathroom, pointing a gun between his eyes as he stood in the shower.58

Kirk Wiebe and Ed Loomis were also raided that morning. Four simultaneous raids on four specific homes belonging to four people united by one thing: the two-page letter they had all sent to the Defense Department’s inspector general five years earlier complaining about the waste and malfunction of the NSA’s TrailBlazer program. In their hunt to find the sources behind the leaks to the New York Times, investigators had pressured managers at Defense’s IG to give up names of whistle-blowers. Not only is even trawling for leads in an inspector general’s office considered highly unethical, it is potentially criminal for someone at DoD IG to divulge any names. The office was created by Congress to be a safe place for reporting abuse.

John Crane, who had been an assistant to the IG until 2006, explains that the Inspector General’s act—which he carried a copy of in his pocket—clearly laid out the only circumstances in which a whistle-blower’s identity is to be revealed without their consent. “Only under exigent circumstances . . . where you needed to act so quickly for safety.” Essentially, a ticking-bomb scenario, which, of course, finding media leakers is not. Crane explains, “For a whistle-blower system to work, whistle-blowers need to have the confidence that they will not have their identities revealed, and they will not be subject to reprisal. Period.”59

Not only were Roark, Binney, Wiebe, and Loomis exposed and now subject to reprisal, they had absolutely nothing to do with the leaks to the New York Times. That source would later turn out to be a person working, ironically enough, at the Justice Department. Either investigators were shooting in the dark and decided to take a swing at whistle-blowers who had successfully challenged NSA hierarchy in the past, or perhaps they knew these four were not the likely culprits, but that with enough pressure and intimidation they could be pressed into divulging who was. Crane suspects this was the case, and that investigators incorrectly believed Tom Drake was the Times leaker all along.

After talking with Binney and Wiebe about the raids, Drake was certain a knock would come at his door any time. Drake, of course, knew he was not the source of the leak in question. He also knew, however, that he had given a lot of nonclassified information to the Baltimore Sun. It was likely the political powers behind this FBI investigation would not be happy with him about the waste, fraud, and abuse he had exposed. “The big fish is the last one they go after,” says Drake, “because they want to find out as much as possible before they move in.”60

That fall, it was Drake’s turn to have his home raided by armed FBI agents. On more than one occasion, he sat down to cooperate with them. Their interest, however, was in the Times leak, not in any of the illegal behavior the NSA was engaging in that he wanted to talk about. Drake, so sure that he was guilty of nothing, admitted right from the outset that he had given unclassified information to Siobhan Gorman.

He was not charged with any crime initially. His legal status did not change, though he would eventually fear that the NSA would strip him of his security clearance. Drake went on administrative leave, finally clearing out his desk in February of 2008, ending his six-year stint there. Finally, Drake was called into a meeting with the FBI at a facility in Washington, DC, where a prosecutor was waiting for him.

The prosecutor tried to apply heat, telling Drake that they had enough information on him to put him away for life if he did not take a plea. He refused. Over the course of years, changing prosecutors, and changing White House administrations, Drake found himself charged with ten felony counts. Five fell under a bastardized interpretation of the Espionage Act, four were for making false statements, and one was for obstruction of justice.

***

Almost two years to the day after informing the White House of their plans to run the exposé of domestic surveillance, the New York Times again called the Bush administration. This time, reporter Mark Mazzetti had learned of Jose Rodriguez’s and Gina Haspel’s destruction of the CIA’s collection of tapes, documenting torture of prisoners inside their black sites. He called up the agency to let them know he was publishing about this, though without their names. “Are you really going to do this story?” they asked him dumbfounded. He was a journalist, so his answer, of course, was, “Yes.” In an apparent move to punish him, CIA director Michael Hayden reportedly had the forthcoming story leaked to the Associated Press. Nonetheless, on December 6, 2007, a front-page New York Times headline read, “CIA Destroyed Tapes of Interrogations.”

Another public furor was ignited, and this one would not go away for some time. Scandals in Washington surrounding potentially illegal actions of officials doing their jobs tended to be a more difficult matter to see prosecuted. The common wisdom since Watergate had been that the cover-up, not the crime, was what would get you. The destruction of tapes, with clear echoes back to Nixon, seemed to fall into the area of cover-up.

In 2008, the Justice Department began investigating the decision by CIA manager Jose Rodriguez to order the destruction of the videotapes. After an almost three-year investigation, it would be announced that no charges would be brought against anyone involved.

***

One night, John Kiriakou turned on the TV to watch President Bush responding to a report from a human rights group, stating to the American public, “This government does not torture people.”61 Kiriakou sat up.

“I knew that was a lie,” he said emphatically. “Not only were we torturing, but the president authorized it as an official US policy.”

Kiriakou became angrier as he watched what he perceived as Bush inferring that if any torture had occurred it must have been the result of a rogue agency employee. “I knew that was a lie too,” he says. “This was an official program.”

Days later, he got a phone call from ABC News. Reporter Brian Ross was on the other end of the line, informing him that he had a source who claimed that Kiriakou had tortured Abu Zubaydah.62

“That is absolutely untrue,” Kiriakou responded. “Not only have I never laid a hand on Abu Zubaydah, I’ve never laid a hand on anybody. This source is either wrong, mistaken, or a liar.”

Ross made an offer. “You’re welcome to come on the show and defend yourself.”

Kiriakou has come to believe he fell for “an old journalists’ technique.” Now working in the private sector, he agreed to come on the show to defend himself against allegations that were likely invented by the journalist.

“I suppose I can say,” Kiriakou told Brian Ross before his cameras, “that my understanding is that what’s been reported in the press has been correct in that these enhanced techniques included everything from what was called an ‘attention shake,’ where you grab the person by their lapels and shake them, all the way up to the other end, which was waterboarding.”

“And that was one of the techniques?” asked Ross.

“Waterboarding was one of the techniques, yes,” responded Kiriakou. He continued, “This had the signature of the president on it. And not just the president but Condi Rice as national security adviser, John Ashcroft as the attorney general, George Tenet as director of the CIA, and about a dozen lawyers from the National Security Council.”63

Jaws must have been dropping in Washington and Langley. Kiriakou was spilling many of the beans. “And it wasn’t just that one day that Tenet signed this paper and then they started torturing people,” Kiriakou made a point of clarifying to Ross, as he tried to defend the CIA. “It was every single time they wanted to torture someone, they had to get the [Director of Central Intelligence’s] signature.”

At the time of the interview, Kiriakou still believed the lie that had floated around Langley in 2002. He told Ross that Zubaydah had “broken” after one application of waterboarding, spilling Al Qaeda’s secrets—the ones Ali Soufan would later make clear he had received using classic interrogation methods. Kiriakou, though morally perturbed by the CIA’s use of torture, still had continued to believe for five years it was effective and necessary. He tried to frame the whole interview from that perspective.

“I felt good coming out of ABC News studio,” Kiriakou reflects. He had asked his CIA employee wife to join him during the taping. As they walked out, he asked her, “How did I do?”

“Great,” she replied enthusiastically.

“I didn’t say anything classified, did I?”

“No, nothing classified.” she confirmed.

He laughs about it now. “Well, little did I know the CIA was going to file a crimes report against me the next morning.” CIA staff did not share Kiriakou’s perspective that he was defending the agency.

“They were furious at the CIA this morning,” a senior DOJ official told ABC News a week later, “but cooler heads have apparently prevailed for the time being.” Prosecutors decided Kiriakou had not shared classified information during his interview, as everything he confirmed had already been reported in one form or another. Nonetheless, CIA director Michael Hayden passed around a classified memo to remind employees “of the importance of protecting classified information.” Several days later, the CIA made a criminal referral in the matter, and the FBI launched an investigation.64

“The CIA never forgave me for going on TV, saying we were torturing prisoners, and airing their dirty laundry,” Kiriakou claims. “And so [some at] the CIA insisted, they demanded, that the FBI and the Justice Department continue to investigate me.”

Speaking to us about the FBI’s long investigation into his activities, Kiriakou points to a study that alleges “the average American on the average day going about his normal business commits three felonies.65 The bottom line being that if ‘they’ want to get you, ‘they’ are going to get you. They waited until I made a mistake.”

***

It would be easy for an outsider to think that Tom Drake was a man possessed by some quaint notions. After multiple attempts at blowing the whistle via the proper channels at the NSA on issues of waste and constitutionality, he found himself the target of an FBI investigation. He was cooperating with the FBI. “I wanted them to know who I was,” says Drake. “I’m talking to criminal investigators and sharing prima facie evidence of crimes being committed by people in the government, and they did not want to hear about it.”

“I felt for the guy,” remembers Kiriakou, who read about the case in the newspapers. He could not figure out why they were going after Drake, seeing no proof of wrongdoing.

The prosecutor in his case retired. Drake hoped the appointee of the incoming president would be far more lenient, until he heard that William Welch would be stepping in. The previous prosecutor had been trying to create a phantom conspiracy between Drake and the other NSA whistle-blowers, Binney, Loomis, Roark, and Wiebe. At least Welch dropped that angle, but still indicted Drake for violating the Espionage Act, primarily based upon the notion that the copies of nonsensitive documents Drake kept after reporting to the inspector general was, in fact, a flagrant act of retaining sensitive material.

Absurdly enough, despite the pretense that their case against Drake was an attempt to ferret out the person who leaked information to the New York Times, after one of the actual leakers, Thomas Tamm, came forward, the Justice Department kept up their case against Drake. Further, they chose never to prosecute Tamm.

Drake’s almost retro sense of truth and justice paid off in the end. By holding strong through five years of investigation and a year of indictment, and refusing to bend to the threat of massive prison time, right before his trial was to begin the prosecution cracked.

“By the end, I felt I was in the driver’s seat and worked out a deal on my terms,” he says. The government, ever concerned with saving face by obtaining some form of guilty plea, regardless of how watered down, conceded that if Drake would accept a lesser charge of retention of classified information with intention to disclose, the ten greater charges would be dropped, and he would serve no jail time.

Of course, for all of his efforts and attempts at honesty, transparency, and legality, his life was largely ruined. Financially decimated and with most of his social networks in tatters, Drake currently works at an Apple Store fixing computers. He has turned down several higher-paying gigs as a media personality—he says out of principle.

***

John Kiriakou felt optimistic that a new era had begun as Barack Obama arrived in the White House.66 “I believed in the whole Hope and Change thing. I believed it was a new chapter in America,” says Kiriakou, who took his children to the inauguration so they could be part of the moment.

President Obama had been clear during the campaign that the Bush administration’s approach toward the fight against terrorist attacks, and toward the government generally, would be fully rebuked.67 Accountability and transparency, he declared, would be the hallmarks of his policy. With the presidency and the Congress now controlled by the other party, investigations into torture were underway in both the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees.

When Senator John Kerry was elevated to chairman of the Senate’s foreign relations committee, he had an idea about how best to exercise oversight of the State Department and the foreign policy community. He wanted to reestablish an investigative unit that had been disbanded back in the 1970s. Via connections that Kerry’s chief of staff had in the media, Kiriakou’s name came up as a potential hire.68

Kiriakou remembers arriving at his fourth-floor office in the Senate’s Dirksen building in early 2009, which he describes as “your typical slap-dash government office with completely mismatched furniture.” It came without a chair, so he had to find one down the hall, broken, which he sat in for another six months before he got a replacement. The highlight was the view of DC’s Union Station, where he often watched the commuters.

With Obama as the president, “everybody thought that this was a new day [for the Intelligence Community], turning a new page,” says Kiriakou. “I didn’t think so. I told [Senator] Kerry, ‘If there’s one thing the CIA is good at, it’s co-opting new presidents and new CIA directors. People think the president or the director are [sic] going to come in and reform everything. They are not. The civil servants at the CIA know they can wait out this director, and they can wait out this president. The civil servants don’t want anything to change. They like things just the way they are.’ And that’s precisely what happened.”

“I have always believed,” says Kiriakou, “that whenever a new president is elected, the CIA works very hard to ‘recruit’ that president. And by that, I mean ‘bring him into the fold,’ make him feel like he’s one of the guys. We whisper the top secrets from around the world to him. We show him those blue-border reports. We brief him on the most sensitive human intelligence assets that we have in the world. Okay, so now you’re one of the guys. You’re not going to come down hard on your friends at the CIA, right, because you’re one of the gang.”

He says that, in contrast to Bill Clinton, Bush and Obama were “sucked right into the CIA and, for lack of a better term, were ‘fellow travelers.’”

Kiriakou began investigating a potential violation of the cover agreement between the CIA and the State Department. Word had reached him that summer that his one-time boss, Alfreda Bikowsky, had been placed under “cover status” for the first time in her long career. Up until then, there had been less legal peril for insiders to provide her name and information about her to reporters. Many had, over the years, but no outlets had yet printed her name. Now she would be officially protected. Kiriakou wrote a letter to Langley asking why a woman included on the list of newly hired State Department officers was going undercover for the first time when she had been with the CIA for twenty-five years.69

“Some time passed,” Kiriakou says, “and then a colleague comes into my office and he [said], ‘You got a letter of response from the agency.’”

Kiriakou replied, “I haven’t seen any letter.”

His colleague told him, “They classified it ‘top secret.’”

Kiriakou, as the CIA knew, was not cleared for top secret. He asked, “What’s it say?”

His colleague responded, “It says, ‘Go fuck yourself.’”

That August, Obama allowed the public to see as-yet-unreleased portions of one of John Helgerson’s reports into the CIA’s torture program. Kiriakou read the release and was beside himself. Abu Zubaydah had been waterboarded eighty-three times; not a single time had “broke” him, as he had been told—and as he had himself repeated to ABC News and the American public two years prior. He also learned that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had been waterboarded 147 times.70

“When John [Kiriakou] and I first talked about this in 2009, John was pissed,” confirms Fulton Armstrong, who had also taken a position working for Kerry. “He was pissed because it was an embarrassment to him but also because he realized that even internally [people he worked with at the CIA had] lied to each other.” The release of the redacted Senate “Torture Report” five years later would make clear another falsehood passed widely inside Langley. Using primary source documents, the Senate investigation confirmed that “enhanced techniques” simply did not work.

Kiriakou was very unimpressed by the power of the nation’s representatives. He says he was close three times to exposing a CIA scandal when Kerry visited him and ordered him to drop it. After complaining, a Kerry staffer gave Kiriakou some useful advice. “Before you determine the subject of each investigation, you need to ask yourself, ‘How does what I am investigating help John Kerry to become Secretary of State?’”

Kiriakou had promised Kerry two years. After two and a half, he decided “there was no point in even remaining in that job.” Kerry closed the investigative unit immediately after Kiriakou’s departure. Obama would nominate Kerry to be Secretary of State a year later. It was a position he held for the remainder of the administration.

***

Alfreda Bikowsky had been placed in “cover status” because she was heading to the London station, perhaps as chief, though it is not known. It was her first field position, and she would be reuniting with an old friend, Jen Matthews, who had been serving there as counterterror liaison for nearly five years, having left the United States for the spot in 2004.71

Once dreaming of becoming the first female CIA director, Matthews knew her time in Europe had not gotten her much closer to the goal. She was growing impatient. During visits to headquarters, she sought the advice of upper management, who confirmed her suspicions. Matthews had never had an overseas tour. She had made it all the way up to GS-15 as a career analyst, a rare matter. The jump into the SES, the Senior Executive Service, would be harder, though. She would need two things to continue up the ladder: a spies division assignment plus either a State Department or Defense Department assignment. An ally offered to help her solve the spies division job problem by making her chief of the base in Khost, Afghanistan.

“She didn’t have the foggiest idea what she was doing in that position. It wasn’t Jen’s fault,” Kiriakou insists. “It was headquarters’ fault. They didn’t send her to ‘The Farm’”—where the CIA trains officers—“Literally nothing. They put her on a plane and sent her to Afghanistan.”

Around the time of Obama’s inauguration, and against the advice of her career CIA officer uncle, Matthews accepted the new position. She did not know it, but her career decision was about to set off a chain of events that would have far-reaching consequences.

It was around 4:30 in the afternoon on December 30, 2009 when the car carrying Abu Mulal al Balawi was waved through three security checkpoints at Forward Operating Base Chapman on the outskirts of Khost. As the car came to a stop near the building where Balawi was to be debriefed, Jen Matthews stood nearby, along with others on her team.72 Balawi stepped out of the vehicle and detonated the explosives that were sewn into his vest. The resulting blast killed Balawi, Matthews, and eight other people.

Balawi had already provided intelligence to the CIA on low-level operatives. Originally a Jordanian asset, the CIA had come to trust that Balawi was indeed working for them. In this meeting, they believed, he was going to provide intelligence on a high-level Al Qaeda operative. The awaiting CIA agents were so eager, they planned to call President Obama right after the meeting. A decision was made not to search Balawi upon his entry to the base.

The decision not to search him was made, it is claimed, as a show of respect. An internal review concluded that the assailant had not been fully vetted, and it cited failures of “management oversight.” But no senior managers were mentioned by name.73

A source put the accusation more bluntly, and laid it at the feet of Alfreda Bikowsky, claiming, “She interfered from headquarters with how Jennifer ran her own operation on the ground in Afghanistan.” The source explained with anger, “She instructed her not to search him because it would offend him as a Muslim. She got Jennifer killed.”74 This claim comes from an excerpt of an internal CIA report on the matter that was never released. Such direct guilt is hard to confirm without acquiring the report in question.

Matthews’s body was returned to the United States, met by her grieving husband and three children. A memorial service was held in Langley amid a snowstorm,75 where someone matching the description of Alfreda Bikowsky gave a kind of eulogy. Some might argue that Matthews’s and Bikowsky’s efforts to lower the bar for accountability at their agency had paved the way for the tragedy. One source tells us that Bikowsky took away a different lesson from her friend’s death, believing that she herself had been spared by God, so she could kill Usama Bin Laden.76 Over a year later when the Al Qaeda top leader was killed by US forces in Abbottabad, Pakistan, becoming the greatest public relations coup of the Obama White House, sources claim Bikowsky would be the CIA employee given the most credit, potentially opening the door for her future rise to the very top of her agency.77

***

John Kiriakou’s interview on ABC had staff at the CIA livid. To many at the agency, he had broken a sacred code of silence. Reporters had been calling Kiriakou frequently ever since the interview, and he spoke with them.78

A colleague who “had never been undercover in his entire life” retired. When former alleged torturer Deuce Martinez left the agency, he went to work for the firm owned by the two psychologists who had developed the CIA’s interrogation program. Meeting Kiriakou, Martinez handed him a few of his business cards. Later, when Scott Shane of the New York Times contacted Kiriakou about a story on the torture of Abu Zubaydah, Kiriakou provided him the business card of a former CIA employee, who was now in the private sector. He did so again when a different journalist, Matthew Cole, approached him concerning a story regarding another agent. Unfortunately for Kiriakou, Cole passed the agent’s name on to defense attorneys for people being held in Guantanamo Bay. When the CIA got wind of the names of current and former agents that these defense attorneys had, they were incensed, and made sure to ferret out their sources.

Kiriakou was invited to an FBI field office in 2011, he believed, to discuss work as a consultant. As the discussion centered entirely on whether or not he had passed the names of agents to Scott Shane or others, he quickly realized he was the target of an investigation. Months later, he was approached by FBI agents and arrested. He was charged with five felonies, including three counts of espionage.

The CIA made a point on that same day of announcing that the information he had provided to the New York Times, resulting in one of the espionage charges, was being declassified solely for the purpose of prosecuting him.79 That top secret information was revealed: the CIA had run a program to capture or kill Al Qaeda members. This was hardly a secret. “That’s not espionage,” Kiriakou insists to this day. “Having a conversation with the New York Times about torture is not espionage.”

Kiriakou hired an attorney. “I gave them everything I had, $150,000 to start.”80

One day, his lawyer sat him down early on to beat an idea into his head. “Look,” he said, “there’s actually a legal definition for ‘whistle-blower,’ and it’s ‘any person who brings to light evidence of waste, fraud, abuse, or illegality.’”

“I’m not a whistle-blower,” Kiriakou responded to him strongly.

The lawyer corrected him. “You’re the definition of a whistle-blower.”

Kiriakou came to believe that the FBI and the Justice Department have a strategy. He suggests, “They heap on charges. Charges that are specious, but they are going to make you defend yourself, knowing that most juries in this country would convict a bologna sandwich.”

After spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on legal fees, and being told by his lawyers that going to trial would cost another million, Kiriakou spoke to his wife. He asked her how long she and the kids could get on without him financially. After running the numbers, they decided it was two years. “I was facing forty-five years, and they offered me a deal for two-and-a-half years,” he says, asking rhetorically, “So do I roll the dice?”

Reflecting on the situation, Kiriakou opines, “They want you worn down. They break you financially, they isolate you socially. You’re likely fired from your job, so professionally you’re ruined. And you’ve got multiple felony accounts hanging over your head.”

Kiriakou got the full story of the government’s long investigation into him, and what was driving it, during the “discovery” phase. Because it’s sealed, he cannot detail it. He will only say, “It was very clear that [the impetus for] this was coming not from the Justice Department or the FBI. It was coming from elsewhere.” Asked if there was a particular group at the CIA that he had heard was pushing this, Kiriakou answers, “Yes. It was CTC. And it was two individuals in particular in CTC who were driving it. One of whom I had never met and never heard of.” At the time, Alfreda Bikowsky was still a key leader in the CTC.

Kiriakou was tried in the eastern district of Virginia, as would be other future government worker defendants like Jeffrey Sterling and Edward Snowden. “No national security defendant has ever won his case in the eastern district of Virginia,” points out Kiriakou.

In discovery, Kiriakou’s attorneys had identified seventy classified documents that were needed for his defense. They submitted seventy separate motions for declassification and blocked off two days to present the cases for each. At the start of the first day, the judge spoke up, “I can take care of this in two minutes. All seventy of these motions are denied.”

As Kiriakou walked out the front steps, he asked, “What just happened?”

“We just lost this case,” answered his attorney.

Staring down the barrel of a one-million-dollar trial and a potential sentence of twelve to eighteen years if convicted, Kiriakou took the plea. He was sentenced to thirty months in prison. As this happened, he thought back to the advice he had followed, given by his CIA colleague back in 2002. That colleague had predicted he should steer clear of participating in torture because those involved would later be prosecuted. “Well,” he says, “it turned out I was the only one who went to prison anyway, out of the entire program.”

One of the only two men to have turned down involvement in the “enhanced interrogations” found himself spending the next two years in the Federal Correctional Institution in Loretto, Pennsylvania. Kiriakou had once hated what he believed George W. Bush had done to his country. Yet he came to feel a personal loathing for the man who had gained office running as Bush’s antithesis, Barack Obama.

“There was a double standard in that administration,” he says. “If you were a friend of the president, or if you had four shiny stars on your shoulder, you could essentially say whatever you wanted to whomever you wanted; but if you were blowing the whistle on waste, fraud, abuse, or illegality, you were going to go to prison.” Kiriakou believes he learned a lesson about the system that is hard for him to swallow. “If I had tortured, I never would have gone to prison.”

***

FBI agent Mark Rossini had filed for divorce from his wife at the end of 2006. Many of the people he once worked beside at Alec Station had also seen their marriages end in recent years, including Mike Scheuer, Alfreda Bikowsky, and Tom Wilshere. Rossini believes the guilt over 9/11 was a factor. “It destroyed my life, it destroyed me, as it destroys me every day,” he stated with passion. “It didn’t have to happen. The guilt I have over not being more forceful. The guilt I have for not saying, ‘Fuck you, I’m taking the memo to the Bureau.’”81

One night, over drinks, he remembers former New York supervisor Ken Maxwell stewing to him, “How could they [in the CIA] not fuckin’ tell us about these guys havin’ a visa? How could they not have told us?”

“And when Kenny said that,” recounts Rossini, “my heart just sank . . . I followed the rules. And look what happens when you follow the rules. And from then on, I didn’t give a shit about the rules anymore.”

One night at Elaine’s Bar in Manhattan, the place where his friend John O’Neill spent his last night, Rossini was nursing his troubles when his own undoing began innocently, as he was introduced to an up-and-coming Hollywood actress. The two became an item.

In January 2007, almost seven years to the day after his heated argument over the passage of Doug Miller’s cable, Rossini began conducting what the Justice Department would later calculate to be forty illegal searches of the FBI’s ACS computer system. He downloaded and printed a number of reports, which he turned over to his new girlfriend. She had asked for his help on behalf of her friend, a “private detective to the stars” who was on trial in Los Angeles. Rossini claims that those forty searches were actually only a handful, but that each term used in a search was counted individually to inflate the charges against him, such as multiple spelling attempts of the same name. Regardless, the documents he sought ended up in the hands of his acquaintance’s defense team. This was noticed, and followed by a government search for the source.

Rossini received a letter from the inspector general at the Justice Department, calling him into the FBI New York office. There, he was informed he was being investigated for his ACS searches. Rossini admitted nothing and called his attorney. He was told they would be continuing their investigation. He was not terribly worried at the moment.82

Months later, emboldened by years of guilt, Mark Rossini and his friend Doug Miller decided they wished to tell their story to journalist James Bamford, known for his work on the NSA. They were denied permission by the head of FBI Public Affairs, Rossini’s boss and friend John Miller.

Though for Doug Miller the denial would be final, Rossini was an old hand in playing Washington politics, and his years at the CIA had certainly taught him a trick or two. To force the FBI’s hand, he turned to a journalist friend working for the Congressional Quarterly. The bureau’s quiet decision to deny an interview hit the Internet, where it looked a lot like they were covering up. Not to be meddled with, the Justice Department then reopened their investigation into Rossini’s accessing of FBI files.

Rossini asked a friend to intervene on his behalf. His friend checked and came back, explaining, “You pissed too many people off. No one can save you now.”83

Rossini thought, “Other people would have been slapped on the wrist or demoted. But you had to get me for something. I’m not saying I didn’t do wrong. But give me a break. Seventeen years of service, an incredible record, commendations, letters recommending my work, sources around the globe developed over my career that would be useful to counterterror, [including] terrorists, criminals, politicians, sources in the Muslim community in New York that no one else had in the FBI—and you kick me out the door?”

Rossini resigned in November 2008, walking out of the FBI’s New York office a civilian. He felt a great weight as he made his way to his car, which he discovered was leaking coolant. A bad omen, he thought. His life was forever going to be fundamentally different, but on the upside, he realized, he was no longer beholden to the Bureau. He could travel as he wished, live as he wished, and he could even unburden his soul by sitting down for an interview with Bamford, which he did the very next day.

Three months later, Mark Rossini watched his appearance in Bamford’s NOVA special on PBS with a group of buddies at a friend’s apartment in New York. For the first time, the public learned in some detail how the blocking of Doug Miller’s warning to John O’Neill had taken place. Viewers watched as Rossini recounted his argument with Michael Anne Casey, now nine years in the past.84

He began receiving calls from his many friends, who told him what he had done had taken real courage. Some questioned if there was a connection between the words he had stated on TV and the legal trouble he was presently in. “Don’t ask me,” he responded.

Bamford’s NOVA, which was viewed by millions and later won an Emmy Award, added still further detail to previous accounts of the withholding of Doug Miller’s 2000 warning to the FBI. By 2009, however, the public had moved on. The CIA had managed to contain the revelations for long enough, with the details bubbling out in multiyear gaps. The impact was minimal.

Still, for those watching TV, it was the first time they could look someone in the eyes—Mark Rossini—and consider the truthfulness as he explained his own first-person account. Had this very same story come out in late 2001, as citizens were still sifting through the rubble of the World Trade Center, the public might have tarred and feathered the CIA employee in question. At minimum, the pressure would have been there for a congressional investigation into this matter, if not a case opened by the Justice Department.

That May, Rossini pleaded guilty to five misdemeanor counts that had been brought against him for illegally accessing FBI records. He laments, “There were a lot of things I could have brought up that were explosive. I didn’t have the fight in me anymore. I was defeated.”85

Rossini was sentenced to a year’s probation and a $5,000 fine, leaving him feeling, as he later told the judge, “so profoundly and deeply ashamed and remorseful.” He eventually would take a new job as a management consultant, spending most of his time in Europe. “I still try to help my country however I can,” he says. He has worked over the past two years to see a book published of his experiences. Even with a famous coauthor, he is mystified that “no one wants to touch it.”

“The question of why Doug Miller’s cable didn’t go remains key,” he says all these years later. “I’m appalled at the lack of ability [by the CIA] to answer something so simple. All the rest of this is superfluous. It all means a hill of shit until you get to the reason why that one person sent a message back to Doug saying, ‘Please hold off.’ You spent seven committees going after Benghazi, and you don’t go after this? They’re not stupid people. There’s something there. There’s something there that is being hidden.”

He concludes, “If they had a rogue operation to recruit somebody, or they had the delusion they could work with Saudi intel in America, tell us. You’re talking about 9/11, man. You’re talking about something that changed the world. It’s like why they can’t let JP Morgan go down [during the financial crisis]. Too big to fail. That’s what they fear coming out, because it would be the end of the CIA. They would be dismantled, if that were to come out.”

 

Chapter 9 Notes:

  1. Interview with John Kiriakou; Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., Hard Measures, 2012.
  2. Gina Haspel was named publicly by CIA director Mike Pompeo on February 2, 2017; interview with John Kiriakou, who referred to Haspel by her first name.
  3. Interviews with multiple employees of CIA’s headquarters; John Cook, “Chief of CIA’s ‘Global Jihad Unit’ Revealed Online,” Gawker.com, September 22, 2011.
  4. Interview with former employee at CIA’s headquarters.
  5. Interview with John Kiriakou.
  6. Interview with Mark Rossini.
  7. Walter Pincus, “Negroponte’s First Job is Showing Who’s Boss,” The Washington Post, March 1, 2005.
  8. Interview with Mark Rossini; “FBI Announces New Role for Maureen A. Baginski,” FBI press release, August 11, 2005.
  9. Ewen Macaskill and Dominic Rushe “Snowden document reveals key role of companies in NSA data collection,” The Guardian, November 1, 2013.
  10. Maureen Baginski, National Security Partners biography.
  11. Siobhan Gorman, “Second-Ranking NSA Official Forced Out of Job By Director,” The Baltimore Sun, May 31, 2006.
  12. Interview with Mark Rossini.
  13. Steve Bongardt, LinkedIn profile.
  14. Interview with Pasquale D’Amuro; Ali Soufan, The Black Banners, 515–516.
  15. Interview with Pasquale D’Amuro.
  16. Seymour Hersh, “The General’s Report,” The New Yorker, June 25, 2007.
  17. “Joint Response to Draft IG 9/11 Report,” January 13, 2005.
  18. Douglas Jehl “Review at CIA and Justice Brings No 9/11 Punishment,” The New York Times, September 14, 2004.
  19. Douglas Jehl “CIA Chief Seeks Change in Inspector’s 9/11 Report,” The New York Times, January 7, 2005.
  20. CIA Inspector General 9-11 Accountability Report, vi; “Joint Response to OIG Report,” July 4, 2005, declassified by the CIA on June 12, 2015.
  21. Porter J. Goss, “Statement on CIA Office of the Inspector General Report,” CIA press release, October 5, 2005; “CIA Releases Declassified Documents Related to 9/11 Attacks,” CIA press release, June 12, 2015.
  22. Joby Warrick, The Triple Agent, 23–24.
  23. “Joint Response to Draft IG 9/11 Report,” January 13, 2005, declassified by the CIA on June 12, 2015.
  24. “Joint Response to Draft IG 9/11 Report,” January 13, 2005, declassified by the CIA on June 12, 2015.
  25. “Joint Response to Draft IG 9/11 Report,” January 13, 2005, declassified by the CIA on June 12, 2015.
  26. “Joint Response to OIG Report,” July 4, 2005, declassified by the CIA on June 12, 2015.
  27. Interview with employee who worked at CIA’s headquarters.
  28. Douglas Jehl and David Johnston, “Within CIA, Worry of Prosecution for Conduct,” The New York Times, February 27, 2005.
  29. Interviews with multiple employees at CIA’s headquarters.
  30. Interview with Mark Rossini, who referred to Bikowsky as “the redhead.”
  31. Interviews with multiple sources who worked at CIA’s CTC; Michael D’Andrea was revealed publicly by Matt Apuzzo, Mark Mazzetti, “Deep Support in Washington for CIA’s Drone Missions,” The New York Times, April 25, 2015.
  32. Interviews with multiple sources who worked at CIA’s CTC.
  33. Interview with former employee of CIA’s Alec Station. “The Wolf” was the nickname of the character based on D’Andrea in the movie Zero Dark Thirty, according to John Cook, “Why Won’t the Post Name Counterterrorism Chief Michael D’Andrea?”, Gawker, March 26, 2015. “The Undertaker” nickname was reported by Nicholas Schou, “Outing the CIA’s ‘Undertaker’ Michael D’Andrea,” Newsweek, June 28, 2016. “The Dark Prince” nickname comes from Adam Goldman and Matthew Rosenberg, “C.I.A. Names the ‘Dark Prince’ to Run Iran Operations, Signaling a Tougher Stance,” The New York Times, June 2, 2017.
  34. Bill Forman, “Covert Intelligence,” MetroActive, March 1, 2006.
  35. Jonathon Karl, “‘High-Value’ Detainees Transferred to Guantanamo,” ABC News, September 6, 2006.
  36. “McCain, Bush Agree on Torture Ban,” CNN, December 15, 2005.
  37. Joby Warrick and Walter Pincus, “Station Chief Made Appeal to Destroy CIA Tapes,” The Washington Post, January 16, 2008.
  38. Joby Warrick and Walter Pincus, “Station Chief Made Appeal to Destroy CIA Tapes,” The Washington Post, January 16, 2008.
  39. Joby Warrick and Walter Pincus, “Station Chief Made Appeal to Destroy CIA Tapes,” The Washington Post, January 16, 2008.
  40. Michael Isikoff, “The Interrogation Tapes,” Newsweek, December 10, 2007.
  41. Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman, “Destruction of Torture Videotapes Documented in CIA Email,” Associated Press, April 16, 2010.
  42. Joe Hagan, “The United States of America vs. Bill Keller,” New York Magazine, September 18, 2006.
  43. Transcript of George W. Bush address to the media, December 17, 2005.
  44. Transcript of Hayden comments at National Press Club, “Balancing Intelligence, Security, and Privacy,” January 23, 2006.
  45. Jane Mayer ,“The Secret Sharer,” The New Yorker, May 23, 2011.
  46. David Johnston and Scott Shane, “CIA Employee Fired for Alleged Leak,” The New York Times, April 21, 2006.
  47. David Johnston and Scott Shane, “CIA Employee Fired for Alleged Leak,” The New York Times, April 21, 2006.
  48. Andrea Mitchell on Countdown with Keith Olbermann, April 24, 2006.
  49. Interview with John Kiriakou.
  50. R. Jeffrey Smith and Dafna Linzer, “Dismissed CIA Officer Denies Leak Role,” The Washington Post, April 25, 2006.
  51. Interview with Ken Silverstein; Ken Silverstein, “Meet the CIA’s new Baghdad Station Chief,” Harper’s, January 28, 2007; Ken Silverstein, “Baghdad Chief Out,” Harper’s, February 2, 2007; Ken Silverstein, “Next Stop: Baghdad Station,” Harper’s, March 23, 2007; Ken Silverstein, “Missed Appointments: The CIA Responds,” Harper’s, April 16, 2007.
  52. Interview with former coworker of Richard Blee; Ken Silverstein, “Baghdad Chief Out,” Harper’s, February 2, 2007.
  53. Siobhan Gorman, “Management shortcomings seen at NSA,” The Baltimore Sun, May 6, 2007.
  54. Interview with Thomas Drake.
  55. Jane Mayer, “The Secret Sharer,” The New Yorker, May 23, 2011.
  56. Interview with Thomas Drake.
  57. Interview with Diane Roark.
  58. Interviews with William Binney, Edward Loomis, and J. Kirk Wiebe.
  59. Interview with John Crane.
  60. Interview with Thomas Drake.
  61. Interview with John Kiriakou; President George W. Bush comments to the press, Oval Office, October 5, 2007.
  62. Interview with John Kiriakou.
  63. Interview with John Kiriakou; John Kiriakou interview by Brian Ross, ABC News, December 10, 2007; Brian Ross and Richard Esposito, “CIA Efforts to Prosecute Whistle-Blower Spy Stopped,” ABC News, December 11, 2007.
  64. Scott Horton, “When Does an FBI Investigation Look Like Omertà?” harpers.org, December 21, 2007.
  65. L. Gordon Crovitz, Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent.
  66. Interview with John Kiriakou.
  67. Press release, “Obama Pledges Most Transparent and Accountable Administration in History,” August 15, 2007; Reuters, “Factbox: Has Obama delivered on his 2008 campaign promises?” October 28, 2011.
  68. Interview with John Kiriakou.
  69. Interview with John Kiriakou, who referred to Bikowsky as “the redhead”; claim that she was placed in cover status to be sent overseas is confirmed by others who worked with Bikowsky.
  70. Interview with John Kiriakou.
  71. Interview with multiple employees at CIA’s headquarters; Joby Warrick, The Triple Agent, 24–25; Warrick does not mention Bikowsky by name, but his descriptions of a CIA manager who joined Jennifer Matthews in London align with accounts by the previously mentioned employees of CIA.
  72. Joby Warrick, The Triple Agent, 6–8.
  73. Interview with employee at CIA headquarters.
  74. Interview with employee who worked at CIA’s headquarters, who referred to Bikowsky as “the redhead.”
  75. Interview with person present at memorial service; Greg Miller, “In Zero Dark Thirty, She’s the Hero,” The Washington Post, December 10, 2012.
  76. Interview with employee who worked at CIA’s headquarters, who referred to Bikowsky as “the redhead.”
  77. Interview with employee who worked at CIA’s Alec Station, who referred to Bikowsky as “the redhead.”
  78. Interview with John Kiriakou.
  79. Charlie Savage, “Ex-CIA Officer Charged in Information Leak,” The New York Times, January 23, 2012.
  80. Interview with John Kiriakou.
  81. Interview with Mark Rossini.
  82. Interview with Mark Rossini; Allan Lengel and Rachel Leven, “The Raven Haired Actress and the Fall of a Dapper FBI Agent,” ticklethewire.com, September 14, 2009; “Former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Supervisory Special Agent Mark Rossini Sentenced for Criminally Accessing FBI Database,” FBI press release, May 14, 2009.
  83. Interview with Mark Rossini; interview with James Bamford; Jeff Stein, “FBI Prevents Agents from Telling ‘Truth’ About 9/11 on PBS,” Congressional Quarterly, October 1, 2008.
  84. Interview with Mark Rossini; “The Spy Factory,” NOVA, PBS, February 3, 2009.
  85. Interview with Mark Rossini; Del Quentin Wilber, “Ex-FBI Agent Mark Rossini Sentenced for Using Bureau Computers in Pelican Case,” The Washington Post, May 15, 2009.

 

Ray Nowosielski and John Duffy

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