Monday, May 18, 2009

Washington Post Withholds Critical Info from their Pelosi/CIA Reporting

Over the weekend the Washington Post went on a full scale attack against Nancy Pelosi.  Almost all of their Pelosi news stories, analysis pieces or opinion columns were highly critical of Pelosi and some of the pieces all but called her a liar. 

What you didn't see mentioned in any of the Washington Post pieces from Friday to Monday, however, was that Nancy Pelosi's claim that the CIA lied to Congress was supported by former CIA Deputy Inspector General, Mary McCarthy, who made the same claim to the Washington Post back in 2006. McCarthy was a key source for the Post's Pulitizer Prize winning series by Dana Priest on the CIA Black sites.

Fired Officer Believed CIA Lied to Congress
Friends Say McCarthy Learned of Denials About Detainees' Treatment

By R. Jeffrey Smith, Washington Post Staff Writer, Sunday, May 14, 2006; A01


That CIA officer was Mary O. McCarthy, 61, who was fired on April 20 for allegedly sharing classified information with journalists, including Washington Post journalist Dana Priest. A CIA employee of two decades, McCarthy became convinced that "CIA people had lied" in that briefing, as one of her friends said later, not only because the agency had conducted abusive interrogations but also because its policies authorized treatment that she considered cruel, inhumane or degrading.


Whether McCarthy's conviction that the CIA was hiding unpleasant truths provoked her to leak sensitive information is known only to her and the journalists she is alleged to have spoken with last year. But the picture of her that emerges from interviews with more than a dozen former colleagues is of an independent-minded analyst who became convinced that on multiple occasions the agency had not given accurate or complete information to its congressional overseers.


In addition to CIA misrepresentations at the session last summer, McCarthy told the friends, a senior agency official failed to provide a full account of the CIA's detainee-treatment policy at a closed hearing of the House intelligence committee in February 2005, under questioning by Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), the senior Democrat.

McCarthy also told others she was offended that the CIA's general counsel had worked to secure a secret Justice Department opinion in 2004 authorizing the agency's creation of "ghost detainees" -- prisoners removed from Iraq for secret interrogations without notice to the International Committee of the Red Cross -- because the Geneva Conventions prohibit such practices.

While the 2006 article doesn't specifically mention the 2002 briefings, the fact that you have a former CIA Deputy Inspector General who is accusing the CIA of lying to Congress in briefings should certainly make what Nancy Pelosi said about the CIA misleading Congress much more credible. 

Ms. McCarthy was a source for the Post's Pulitizer Prize winning series on the CIA Black sites and yet no one at the Post who wrote a story or column this weekend bothered to report on this earlier story that confirmed what Pelosi was saying? Why not?

Instead of telling readers that both Pelosi and this former CIA official claimed that the CIA lied to Congress the Post instead wrote pieces this weekend that tried to paint Pelosi as a liar and the CIA as the truth tellers. Why?

We had a story by Paul Kane where he made this statement:
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) yesterday charged the CIA with knowingly misleading members of Congress about the interrogation practices, even as she acknowledged for the first time that she learned six years ago that waterboarding was being used on detainees.

While Kane's piece is the most balanced of all the Post's reporting this weekend, this statement is misleading at best. In an AP story appearing in the Post the same day, Julie Hirschfeld Davis documents that Pelosi told reporters back in 2007 that she found out in 2003 that Jane Harman had been briefed that the enhanced interrogation techniques were being used. Kane is either playing word games to claim that Pelosi only said this for the first time in 2009 because Pelosi didn't specifically say "waterboarding" in 2007 and only said "enhanced interrogation techniques" or he just got it wrong. By the way because Bush didn't admit to using waterboarding until 2008 Pelosi would not have been able to divulge the name of the specific technique of waterboarding back in 2007. She would have had to use the words enhanced interrogation techniques to describe it. Evidently Mr. Kane never read Ms. Davis' piece in the Post because he never corrected his own piece.

Dec. 9, 2007: Pelosi, now the House's speaker, first publicly acknowledges having been briefed on enhanced interrogation techniques in 2002 and learning in 2003 of their use. Responding to a news report that said Pelosi was among top lawmakers who had been briefed in 2002 about waterboarding, she issues a statement saying she had been briefed once in 2002 "on interrogation techniques the administration was considering using in the future," and told that Bush's team "had concluded that the techniques were legal." She also acknowledges learning in 2003 that Harman had been briefed that "the techniques had in fact been employed." She references Harman's letter of objection and says it was "a protest with which I concurred."

May 14, 2009: Pelosi herself says for the first time that she was specifically told in 2002 that waterboarding had not been used, and accuses the CIA of misleading her and the Congress. She also confirms that she learned of its use in February 2003. CIA Spokesman George Little says the CIA's description of Pelosi's briefing was "true to the language in the agency's records," adding, "It is not the policy of this agency to mislead the United States Congress."

On the same day as the Kane and Davis pieces appeared in the Post we also had an "analysis" piece by Dan Balz. Mr. Balz starts out his piece by giving only two reasons for Nancy Pelosi holding her press conference and both of the reasons he gave were negative. Mr. Balz evidently never considered the fact that she might want to set the record straight instead of having the media get it wrong, again.

Pelosi's performance in the Capitol was either a calculated escalation of a long-running feud with the Bush administration or a reckless act by a politician whose word had been called into question. Perhaps it was both.

Unfortunately for Ms. Pelosi, despite the press conference she gave the media is still getting it wrong. Mr. Balz joined Mr. Kane in misrepresenting the facts. This is what he says about her statement:

For the first time, Pelosi (D-Calif.) acknowledged that in 2003 she was informed by an aide that the CIA had told others in Congress that officials had used waterboarding during interrogations. 

Now while Mr. Balz is technically correct that this is the first time we knew that it was an "aide" who told Nancy Pelosi in 2003 that the CIA had briefed others that waterboarding had been used, this is not the first time that Pelosi said she knew that harsh interrogation techniques had been used. Mr. Balz, like Mr. Kane, didn't report the 2007 Pelosi statement. Because he didn't report it he gives readers the false impression that Pelosi is somehow changing her story, when she isn't. Indeed, Mr. Balz even accuses her of giving shifting accounts.

The speaker's charges about the CIA's alleged deception and her shifting accounts of what she knew and when she knew it are likely to add to calls for some kind of independent body to investigate this supercharged issue, though Obama and many members of Congress would like to avoid a wholesale unearthing of the past at a time when their plates are full with pressing concerns.

Dan Balz also made this bizarre statement:

But in attempting to defend herself, Pelosi took the remarkable step of trying to shift the focus of blame to the CIA and the Bush administration, claiming that the CIA accounts represented a diversionary tactic in the real debate over the interrogation policies. 

There is nothing remarkable here except for Dan Balz calling it remarkable. What the GOP, CIA and establishment media are doing to Pelosi IS  a diversionary tactic to deflect attention away from the Bush administration and the CIA, who were up to their necks in torture, and try to make the conversation about what  Pelosi may or may not have known. Nancy Pelosi is not the one shifting the blame she is merely trying to return the blame where it rightfully belongs before it was incorrectly shifted to her. While knowing what Congress knew is important, it is not more important than knowing who created, authorized and ran the torture program.

Balz closes out his piece ignoring Pelosi's 2007 statement again.

Pelosi is not out of the woods. She could have saved herself some trouble by admitting earlier that she had been informed that the CIA was using waterboarding. (you mean like she did in 2007?).

There were a number of other pieces in the Post over the weekend that were highly critical of Pelosi. There were two AP analysis pieces that were both skeptical of Pelosi's version of the briefing. You had several commentary pieces that were scathing in their criticism of Pelosi's truthfulness. Here's one comment from a David Ignatius piece

If you read the CIA's careful 10-page summary of the 40 briefings it has given to Congress since 2002 on "enhanced interrogation techniques," it's pretty hard not to conclude that Pelosi is shading the truth to retrospectively cover her backside.  

Whether by design or accident, the Washington Post left out key information (Pelosi's 2007 statement, comments by Senators Graham, Goss & Rockefeller and CIA deputy IG McCarthy's accusations about CIA lying in their briefings to Congress) from their multiple pieces about Pelosi this weekend that the readers deserve to know about. The Post also has a duty to explain to it's readers why this happened and to set the record straight or we might begin to believe that this is a deliberate CIA misinformation campaign, similiar to what happened to Barry Goldwater back in 1984, only this time instead of the New York Times being used to disseminate the disinformation, it's the Washington Post.

Update: Emptywheel also critiques the Washington Post's Pelosi coverage

Update 2:  Battochio has an excellent piece up at Vagabond Scholar: Torture Versus Freedom


  1. Great catch, thanks!

    So: Briefings, whatever their content, broke all the rules about full committee vs. gang of 8, presidential finding, presidential letter, location, staffers. No mention of this whatsoever in any Post coverage, and not any other corp media coverage either; only in a NYT op ed by former CTC deputy counsel.

    Pelosi, Graham, Obey: CIA's briefings report is riddled with errors, provably so because of Graham's and Obey's contemporaneous notes. CIA never briefed in 2002 that water torture was already being used. Term "EITs" also not in use in 2002, so even fewere conclusions can be drawn about what Pelosi and Goss were told.

    McCarthy: CIA lied in Congressional briefings.

    Panetta: Not vouching for accuracy of briefings document.

    Goss's account doesn't even contradict Pelosi's.

    Shelby contradicts Graham, but his credibility is low: he leaked info in 2002, and it's looking more and more as if the leak was done at the behest of Cheney to give him the tools he needed to intimidate the intel committees into not complaining about illegally irregular and incomplete briefings.

    And, of course, it's pretty obvious that the CIA lied to Congress about the destruction of the tapes, and (as Schakowsky is now pointing out and Hoekstra used to be concerned about) they lied to Congress about the shoot-down of a missionary plane in Peru.

    So, despite the Post's best efforts, I think this line of distraction is not only not going to work but is going to boomerang on them.


  2. Thanks for a great summary, Nell. I forgot about the term EIT not being used in 2002. All of these problems and yet the Post and the rest of the establishment media are trying to drive Pelosi out of office? Yeah, right.

    When this whole thing has played out (at the end of investigations) there should be a lot of very embarrassed people in the establishment media. They are losing what little credibility they had the longer this gets dragged out and they more they resist actually reporting the facts. I consider what they're doing journalistic malpractice.


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