The CIA possesses reams of information gleaned from captured al Qaeda leaders that far exceeds former Vice President Dick Cheney’s declassification request for just two documents.
A former senior Cheney aide tells HUMAN EVENTS these documents, too, should be scoured for public release.
David Wurmser said the release would do more than show that the CIA’s harsh interrogation techniques on selected al Qaeda leaders produced details on planned attacks. He said the questioning also uncovered a wealth of information on al Qaeda’s strategic intentions and the lengths to which it would go to align itself with other groups or governments to defeat its overriding foe — America.
"It was really a black hole," Wurmser said of what the U.S. knew about Osama bin Laden’s terror army before the September 11 attacks. "We were very unaware of the deeper imagery and outlook they had."
President Obama last month OK’d the release of previously secret Justice Department memos from the Bush administration that outlined approved techniques, such as simulated drowning, or waterboarding, on senior al Qaeda people.
Cheney, who advocated the tough tactics, responded to Obama by urging the release of two secret CIA memos that disclosed vital information gained from such al Qaeda heavyweights as 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, and Abu Zubaydah, an aide to bin Laden. The U.S. is holding both Mohammed and Zubaydah at Guantanamo Bay prison, which Obama has ordered closed.
But Wurmser said Cheney’s request does not go far enough. There are many more intelligence reports on al Qaeda, especially raw transcripts of the interrogations through which the American public would understand the threats President Bush faced in defending the country.
"I think it’s important we start getting some of this stuff out in the public," said Wurmser, who worked for Cheney in 2003-07. "The basic war on terror is still absent from the debate for our understanding of the war — the understanding from these guys in their own words about what they were up to."
After reading heavily edited raw transcripts, Wurmser said, "I found it enlightening as to its goals but also the relationships it was willing to entertain to get there. These were practical people. They were a group of terrorists who wanted to get the job done."
Cheney has launched a formal government process to declassify and release two CIA reports on detainee interrogation: a 12-page report dated July 13, 2004, and a 19-page report dated June 1, 2005.
He filled out a National Archive "Presidential Libraries Mandatory Review Request" form. That submission triggers an inner-agency review in which the intelligence agencies, the Justice Department, the White House and Pentagon will make a recommendation to the president.
"One of the things that I find a little bit disturbing about this recent disclosure is they put out the legal memos, the memos that the CIA got from the Office of Legal Counsel, but they didn’t put out the memos that showed the success of the effort," Cheney told Sean Hannity on the Fox News Channel show "Hannity."
"I haven’t talked about it, but I know specifically of reports that I read, that I saw, that lay out what we learned through the interrogation process and what the consequences were for the country," Cheney said. "I’ve now formally asked the CIA to take steps to declassify those memos so we can lay them out there and the American people have a chance to see what we obtained and what we learned and how good the intelligence was."
An intelligence source said the Cheney request review will be much more vigorous than the one used by Obama when he decided, almost unilaterally, to release memos which detailed the secret methods used by CIA questioners. Some intelligence experts say it was unprecedented for a commander in chief to release such vital secrets at a time the country is at war.
Obama’s own CIA director, Leon Panetta, opposed the release because it tells the enemy what to expect in interrogations. Four former CIA directors, two appointed by Republican presidents and two by Democrats, also opposed the declassification.
In his book, At the Center of the Storm, former CIA Director George Tenet wrote of a painstaking legal process in Washington that ultimately produced White House authority to use harsh techniques on just a few al Qaeda bigwigs.
The first big break in trying to crack al Qaeda’s wall of secrecy came with the capture of Zubaydah. He cracked under pressure and led the CIA to others.
"The most aggressive interrogation techniques conducted by CIA personnel were applied to only a handful of the worst terrorists on the planet, including people who had planned the 9/11 attacks," wrote Tenet, whom President Bush held over a CIA chief from the Clinton era. "The interrogation of these few individuals was conducted in a precisely monitored, measured way intended to try to prevent what we believed to be an imminent follow-on attack. Information from these interrogations helped disrupt plots aimed at locations in the United States, the United Kingdom, the Middle East, South Asia and Central Asia."
Michael Hayden, who directed the CIA in Bush’s last three years in office, told NewsMax.com that after Zubaydah was waterboarded he coughed up the name of Ramzi bin al-Shibh.
Information from al-Shibh led to the capture of Sheik Mohammed, who in turn told of a plot to attack the West Coast.
“That’s pretty actionable intelligence,” Hayden said.