The voice of the former CIA briefer on the phone is strong and direct, unapologetic in either tone or words.
“Of course we misled Congress on torture. The White House and (George) Tenet demanded it, and we were trained how to do it without lying,” he says to me. “People (former Vice President Dick) Cheney sent over taught us how to do it without violating the ‘lying to Congress’ statutes.”
I ask the man, who – like the three others interviewed for this article – insists his name not be used because he still has a business relationship with various American intelligence services a pointed question: Does it occur to him that in avoiding committing one felony, he actively encouraged another, torturing prisoners of war.
“If that was going on, it was above my pay grade,” he replies with typically cold, bureaucratic indifference. “I was a foot solider. My job was to tell Congress what the top of the CIA wanted it to know, and the way they wanted to frame the information.”
All I can think of is the late John Banner, Sgt. Schultz on the old Hogan’s Hero’s TV show, insisting, “I zee nussing! I know nussing!” in that stage German dialect he perfected as he rolled and averted his eyes.
I inquire whether my source feels betrayed by his former masters, or has any remorse about his role in undermining the American political system. He pauses a moment to consider the question before revealing that his only worry was personal.
“My concern was that this might come out someday,” he says brusquely. “If it did, I wanted to be on the right side of the law.”
I realize I am speaking to a man as unrepentant and amoral as Dick Cheney himself.
Yet he is not an isolated example, a lonely, Joe Friday-like “Just the facts, ma’am” functionary who emerges from the bowels of the CIA’s huge Langley, Virgina, campus to spread the gospel to Congress as seen by Bush. Two other former intelligence officers and one current CIA employee confirm what he says – and go even further.
“I’m convinced that the so-called ‘timeline’ of what and when was told to Congress … was forged after-the-fact, probably fairly recently when the pressure was turned up,” a current employee reveals. “Otherwise, the dates and who was briefed would be accurate, the topics covered would be correct, and acronyms that weren’t created for another two or three years wouldn’t have been noted as being used at the wrong time.”
So is the CIA is scrambling fast and hard to cover its very exposed asses, and being careless about it in the process?
“It’s exactly what’s happening,” he assures me. Some assurance.
Pelosi and Boehner and Cheney, Oh My
Meanwhile, the only reason Nancy Pelosi and Congressional Democrats are under attack by Republicans for accusing the CIA of lying to Congress is because she tripped herself up in a knotty set of facts before truly understanding what happened when, and who was told what by whom.
Even with several members of both parties in Congress and the Senate rushing to her aid with their own accounts of being misled, John Boehner demanded she apologise to the CIA – letting slide the fact that Mr. Man Tan himself admitted the CIA lied to him a few days later. And then said it wasn’t what he meant before re-stating how he was misled.
Muddling matters even further is Dick Cheney’s on-going, full-throated defence of war crimes including illegal torture which, it turns out, is still filled with his own lies.
After Cheney stood before the American Enterprise Institute on Thursday accusing President Obama of libelling the CIA in Obama’s own speech on national security – actually, it would have been slander, which is spoken, and libel occurs in print; turns out Cheney doesn’t know those laws any better than he knows torture laws – McClatchy’s crack team of national security reporters, Jonathan S. Landay and Warren P. Strobel, fact-checked 10 specific lies Cheney told his audience.
“From what I could observe,” a former CIA insider tells me, “Cheney was both de facto president and the real head of the CIA. Tenet may have run things day-to-day but Cheney was the man in charge of everything, including torture. He got field reports every time someone was waterboarded, or was undergoing sleep denial and other of the ‘harsh interrogations’ that the vice president ordered.”
So did Vice President Cheney direct the CIA to mislead Congress in the intelligence updates mandated by law?
“I couldn’t swear to it in front of a grand jury,” a source claims, “but he was the only guy with the power to do it. Tenet would never go out on a limb on something like lying to Congress without Cheney ordering him to do it.”