In an explosive memoir released today, former CIA counterterrorism chief Jose Rodriguez provides new evidence that Rep. Nancy Pelosi lied when she declared she had not been briefed about the use of waterboarding.
Recall that in a Capitol Hill news conference three years ago, Pelosi (D-Calif.) vehemently denied being told about the use of waterboarding at a CIA briefing in September 2002. “We were not — I repeat — were not told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation methods were used,” Pelosi said. She later changed her story, telling reporters, “We were told explicitly that waterboarding was not being used.” She claimed she learned about the use of waterboarding the following year, only after other lawmakers were told by the CIA. “I wasn’t briefed, I was informed that somebody else had been briefed about it,” she said.
If Rodriguez is right, each of these statements is false. But other than a chart released by the CIA noting that Pelosi, then the ranking member of the House intelligence committee, and Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.), then chairman of the committee, had been given a “description of the particular [enhanced interrogation techniques] that had been employed,” there was little public evidence to contradict Pelosi’s claims. So she got away with it — until today.
In his new book, “Hard Measures,” Rodriguez reveals that he led a CIA briefing of Pelosi, where the techniques being used in the interrogation of senior al-Qaeda facilitator Abu Zubaida were described in detail. Her claim that she was not told about waterboarding at that briefing, he writes, “is untrue.”
“We explained that as a result of the techniques, Abu Zubaydah was compliant and providing good intelligence. We made crystal clear that authorized techniques, including waterboarding, had by then been used on Zubaydah.” Rodriguez writes that he told Pelosi everything, adding, “We held back nothing.”
How did she respond when presented with this information? Rodriguez writes that neither Pelosi nor anyone else in the briefing objected to the techniques being used. Indeed, he notes, when one member of his team described another technique that had been considered but not authorized or used, “Pelosi piped up immediately and said that in her view, use of that technique (which I will not describe) would have been ‘wrong.’ ” She raised no such concern about waterboarding, he writes. “Since she felt free to label one considered-and-rejected technique as wrong,” Rodriguez adds, “we went away with the clear impression that she harbored no such feelings about the ten tactics [including waterboarding] that we told her were in use.”
So we’re left with a “he said-she said” standoff? Not at all. Rodriguez writes that there’s contemporaneous evidence to back his account of the briefing. Six days after the meeting took place, Rodriguez reveals, “a cable went out from headquarters to the black site informing them that the briefing for the House leadership had taken place.” He explains that “[t]he cable to the field made clear that Goss and Pelosi had been briefed on the state of AZ’s interrogation, specifically including the use of the waterboard and other enhanced interrogation techniques.”
Rodriguez asks, “So Pelosi was another member of Congress reinventing the truth. What’s the big deal?” The big deal, he explains, is “the message they are sending to the men and women of the intelligence community who to this day are being asked to undertake dangerous and sometimes controversial actions on behalf of their government. They are told that the administration and Congress ‘have their back.’ You will forgive CIA officers if they are not filled with confidence.”
Rodriguez compares Pelosi’s actions to the opening scene of the old TV series “Mission: Impossible,” “in which the operatives were told that if anything went wrong, their leaders would ‘disavow any knowledge of your actions.’ That is not how it should work in the real world,” he writes.
It is a big deal for another reason. If Rodriguez is right, it means that Pelosi stood up in a Capitol Hill news conference and lied with a straight face to the American people; that she falsely accused a dedicated civil servant of lying to Congress as part of a political cover-up. Pelosi is hoping to become House speaker again after the November elections. Do we really want someone so ethically challenged to be third in line to the presidency?
There is a simple way to settle this once and for all. Pelosi should formally request that the Obama administration declassify the cable that was sent from headquarters to the field reporting on the details of her Sept. 4, 2002, briefing. If she refuses to do so, it should be taken as an admission by Pelosi that her account of events is a fabrication.