TIME intelligence

U.S. Sees North Korea as Culprit in Sony Hack

Fallout prompted studio to pull The Interview

American officials have determined the government of North Korea is connected to the hack that left Sony Entertainment Pictures reeling and eventually prompted it to pull a movie critical of the country’s leader, a U.S. official confirmed Wednesday.

Much remains unclear about the nature of North Korea’s involvement. The country, while lauding the hack against Sony, has denied being behind it. There were conflicting reports Wednesday evening, and officials are expected to unveil their findings Thursday. But the U.S. official confirmed to TIME that intelligence officials have indeed determined North Korea was behind the hack, one of the worst cyberattacks ever against an American company.

The New York Times, citing senior Obama Administration officials, reported that intelligence officials have determined North Korea was “centrally involved.” NBC News, also citing unnamed U.S. officials, reported that the Americans believe the hacking came from outside North Korea itself, but that the hackers were acting on orders from Pyongyang.

MORE: The 7 most outrageous things we learned from the Sony hack

The hack exposed reams of company data, including employees’ emails and salaries. A group calling itself the Guardians of Peace claimed credit. And analysts have speculated North Korea was behind an attack that came before the scheduled release of The Interview, a Sony movie that depicts American journalists enlisted by the CIA to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. (North Korean officials have criticized the movie.) Threats of 9/11-style attacks against theaters that show the movie led many theaters to say this week that they wouldn’t screen it, which prompted Sony to cancel the scheduled Christmas Day release altogether.

“We are deeply saddened by this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company, our employees and the American public,” Sony said in a statement. “We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome.”

In an interview with ABC News on Wednesday, President Barack Obama called the hack against Sony “very serious,” but suggested authorities have yet to find any credibility in the threat of attacks against theaters.

“For now, my recommendation would be that people go to the movies,” Obama said.

TIME intelligence

Attorney General Allows Limited Subpoena of New York Times Journalist

A man crosses the Central Intelligence A
Saul Loeb—AFP/Getty Images A man crosses the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) logo in the lobby of CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia, on August 14, 2008.

Attorney General Eric Holder has given federal prosecutors permission to subpoena New York Times reporter James Risen for some information regarding his connection to a former employee of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Though New York Times reporter James Risen has been adamant about not revealing his sources and the Department of Justice indicated last week it would not force the Pulitzer Prize winner to reveal who his sources were, prosecutors announced Tuesday they will be seeking his testimony in the case of Jeffery Sterling.

The Department of Justice charged Sterling, a former agent, of unlawfully obtaining documents and spilling national secrets in 2010, and subsequently accused him of being a source in Risen’s 2006 book State of War.

Information regarding confidentiality agreements for Risen’s book, whether articles and chapters from his book, “accurately reflect information provided to him by his source (or sources), that statements attributed to an unnamed source were, in fact, made by an unnamed source, and that statements attributed to an identified source were, in fact, made by an identified source” will be sought during the trial, scheduled to begin on Jan. 12.

According to a court filing, prosecutors needed approval in regard to the subpoena given new Department of Justice guidelines on seeking information from the news media. The guidance, issued in July, provides some protection from members of the media in civil and criminal proceedings. The guidance came following scandals involving the DOJ seizing phone records and emails of reporters from the Associated Press and Fox News.

Media organizations and advocacy groups including the Newspaper Association of America have been calling on Congress to pass a law that would protect journalists from having to reveal their confidential sources in criminal and civil proceedings without having to face legal consequences.

A federal judge in Virginia requested last week that the federal attorneys come to a clear decision on whether or not they would subpoena Risen by Tuesday.

Requests for comment from Risen’s attorneys were not immediately answered.

TIME intelligence

People Are Complaining the Torture Report Is ‘Unreadable’ on Amazon Kindle

Reviews on Amazon.com about the Senate torture report

The Kindle may not be the best place to read the torture report

The Senate report on CIA interrogation tactics is too hard to read on the Kindle, Amazon customers are saying.

The report, which details the brutal tactics—now widely condemned as torture—employed by the CIA in order to interrogate terrorism suspects, and faults the agency for misleading the White House and Congress about it. But the report is “unreadable” on the Kindle, according to customer reviews.

One verified purchaser said “don’t waste your money — unreadable on a kindle.” Another reviewer said, “Don’t bother with this unless you can read it on a large screen; it’s basically a pdf and you can get it for free from the committee web site.”
Another reviewer said the report was readable on the Kindle iPad app, and the PDF is available for free from the New York Times, PBS, and others—and you can read it here.
TIME intelligence

Scalia Defends CIA Tactics After Torture Report

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia waits for the beginning of the taping of "The Kalb Report" on April 17, 2014 at the National Press Club in Washington.
Alex Wong—Getty Images Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia waits for the beginning of the taping of "The Kalb Report" on April 17, 2014 at the National Press Club in Washington.

The conservative Supreme Court justice says sometimes it might be necessary

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said in a new interview that the use of harsh interrogation techniques now widely condemned as torture might not be unconstitutional.

The 78-year-old jurist, part of the court’s conservative wing, said the there’s nothing in the constitution that prohibits harsh treatment of terror suspects.

His remarks came during an interview with a Swiss radio station that aired Thursday, the Associated Press reports. They followed the release of a Senate report the faulted the CIA for lying to the Bush White House and to Congress about the methods and their effectiveness.

MORE: What the torture report reveals about Zero Dark Thirty

Scalia pointed to the oft-cited “ticking time bomb” argument, saying it would be difficult to rule out the use of torture to get information from terror suspects if millions of lives were at stake, and said he doesn’t “think it’s so clear at all” that such tactics should be prohibited in all cases.

[AP]

TIME intelligence

The Twitter Debate Between the CIA and the Senator Behind the Torture Report

Sen. Dianne Feinstein oversaw the compilation of the 6,700 page report — and has a license to fact-check

While CIA Director John Brennan defended his agency from a sharply critical Senate report into its post-9/11 detention and interrogations on Thursday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein took to Twitter to fact-check his assertions. Feinstein, the chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, led the compilation of the 6,700 page report.

Here are statements Brennan made during the press conference, and what Feinstein tweeted about their accuracy:

Brennan: “The cause and effect relationship between the use of EITs [enhanced interrogation techniques] and useful information subsequently provided by the detainee is, in my view, unknowable.”

Brennan: “Another key point with which we take issue is the study’s characterization of how CIA briefed the program to the Congress, the media and within the executive branch, including at the White House. The record simply does not support the study’s inference that the agency repeatedly, systematically and intentionally misled others on the effectiveness of the program.”

Brennan: “[CIA professionals] are a testament to our history and our spirit, and a consistent reminder of the women and men who make sacrifices daily so that they can help keep their fellow Americans safe and our country strong.”

Brennan: “There was information obtained subsequent to the application of EITs from detainees that was useful in the bin Laden operation.”

Brennan: “But as I think we have acknowledged over the years, we have brought those mistakes, shortcomings and excesses to the attention of the appropriate authorities, whether it be to our inspector general, to the Department of Justice and others. As you well know, the Department of Justice looked at this for many years and decided that there was no prosecutable crimes there.”

Finally, Sen. Feinstein concluded with advice to Brennan:

 

TIME intelligence

CIA Director Defends Agency Over Senate Report

"Our nation, and particularly this agency, did a lot of things right during this difficult time," John Brennan said

CIA Director John Brennan defended his agency from a sharply critical Senate report into its post-9/11 detention and interrogations in a rare press conference Thursday.

Speaking from the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Va., Brennan called the report “flawed,” chafed at its level of disclosure, and disagreed with the report’s conclusions that the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” were ineffective. Brennan called the efficacy of those tactics, which included waterboarding and sleep-deprivation, “unknowable.”

Brennan opened his public statement with a drawn-out reminiscence of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, calling it the “backdrop” for the use of those tactics. “Whatever your views are on EITs, our nation, and particularly this agency, did a lot of things right during this difficult time,” he said.

Casting the efforts of the agency as a scramble to protect the nation after the deaths of nearly 3,000 fellow citizens, Brennan acknowledged that the CIA was in “uncharted territory” with the interrogation and detention programs, and had made mistakes.

“I look back at the record and I see this was a workforce that was trying to do the right thing,” Brennan said. “I cannot say with certainty that individuals acted with complete honesty.”

The CIA director questioned the Senate panel’s decision not to interview the officers involved in carrying out or overseeing the program to understand their perspective. “I think it’s lamentable that the committee did not avail itself of the opportunity to interact with CIA personnel,” he said.

Under questions from reporters, Brennan openly complained about the contents of the Senate report. “I think there’s been more than enough transparency that has happened over the last couple of days,” Brennan said. “I think it’s over the top.”

Brennan refused to characterize some of the CIA’s activities as “torture,” despite President Obama’s declaration in August that “we tortured some folks.” He would only concede that some officers “exceeded the policy guidance that was given,” adding that they were “abhorrent, and rightly should be repudiated by all.”

Brennan would only concede that the use of coercive techniques had a high likelihood of producing false information.

“We fell short when it came to holding some officers accountable for their mistakes,” Brennan added. The Department of Justice ended criminal probes of the practices in 2012 without charging any of the officers involved.

Weighing into one of the most contentious debates about the utility of program, Brennan said it was a fact that detainees subjected to brutal interrogation techniques provided information that led to the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

“I am not going to attribute that to the use of the EITs,” Brennan said. “I am just going to state as a matter of fact the information they provided was used.”

Saying the detention and interrogation program ended seven years ago, “my fervent hope is that we can put aside this debate and move forward.”

TIME intelligence

Watch Live: CIA Director Addresses Reporters About Torture Report

CIA Director John Brennan is addressing reporters Thursday afternoon for the first time since the release of a Senate report that faulted the agency for brutal Bush-era interrogation tactics and for misleading Congress and the White House about it.

Watch the news conference live above.

TIME intelligence

Dick Cheney Says Senate Torture Report Is ‘Full of Crap’

“It's a terrible piece of work”

In an interview that aired on Fox News Wednesday, former Vice President Dick Cheney called the recently released report on the CIA’s use of torture after 9/11 a “terrible piece of work.”

“It’s a classic example of what you see too often in Washington where a group of politicians get together and sort of throw the professionals under the bus,” Cheney said.

He called the report, which found that the CIA misled the White House and used practices that could be classified as torture on detainees, “deeply flawed,” noting that the Senate Democrats that wrote the report did not interview any key subjects.

“We did exactly what needed to be done in order to catch those who were guilty on 9/11 and prevent a further attack,” Cheney said. “We were successful on both parts.”

He added, when the anchor pressed him on the fact that the report found otherwise, “The report is full of crap, excuse me.”

[Fox News]

TIME Egypt

Egypt’s Rights Groups View Report on CIA Torture With Weary Familiarity

It's a reminder of Egypt's past as a home for "outsourced" torture — and its present regime's alleged use of the same kinds of practices

For rights advocates in Egypt, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee report released Tuesday detailing years of CIA torture was a reminder not only of the country’s past role as a destination for “outsourcing” U.S. torture, but also of a present reality in which Egypt’s security forces continue to use brutal methods on detainees.

Egypt was a key destination under the CIA’s “rendition” program in which the U.S. transferred prisoners to other countries for interrogation. For years the CIA cooperated with the regime of President Hosni Mubarak, including the Egyptian security agencies whose widespread use of torture was one of the hallmarks of the authoritarian state.

In the eyes of human rights activists, the legacy of the CIA’s collaboration with the Egyptian state lives on in widespread accounts of security force abuses. “Today we see more cases of enforced disappearances involving the Military Intelligence and the National Security. These are practices that existed in Egypt before and were used in the extraordinary rendition program,” said Mohamed Lotfy, the executive director of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms. “This mistake shouldn’t be repeated.”

The 500-PAGE executive summary report released by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Tuesday redacts the names of the partner countries involved in rendition and torture, but those countries involved have long been publicly identified. The U.S. began rendering people suspected of involvement in terrorism to Egypt in 1995 under President Bill Clinton. According to a 2013 report by the Open Society Foundations, Egypt accepted a U.S. request to join the program in part because it wanted access to suspected members of Al Qaeda.

Rendition expanded massively following the September 11, 2001 attacks. In 2005, Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif admitted that “60 to 70” people had been rendered to Egypt, out of an estimated total of 100 to 150. The CIA also sent detainees to Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya and Bashar Al-Assad’s Syria, all autocratic regimes with long records of torture. All three countries would be shaken by popular uprisings in the “Arab Spring” of 2011.

Egypt was the destination for some of the most high-profile cases of extraordinary rendition, according to the Open Society Foundations report. Detainees included Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, known as Abu Omar, an Egyptian who had been living in Italy. Abu Omar was picked up on a street in Milan in 2003, then flown to Ramstein airbase in Germany, then to Egypt, where he was detained secretly for 14 months and subjected to electric shocks.

In another instance detailed by the Open Society Foundations report, an Australian citizen named Mamdouh Habib was captured in Pakistan, questioned by U.S. and Australian agents, then rendered to Egypt where he was tortured. In another instance, a pair of Egyptian men seeking asylum in Sweden, Muhammed al-Zery and Ahmed Agiza, were handed to the CIA then flown back to Egypt. In Agiza’s case, CIA agents “stripped him, dressed him in overalls, and chained and shackled him,” according to the report. The Egyptian government had assured Sweden that the two would not be tortured, but both were submitted to electric shocks.

Hosni Mubarak was removed from power in the 2011 revolt that was in part fueled by public outrage at the abuses of the security forces. But the massive police apparatus he oversaw remained intact, and the regime figures and security officials responsible for the use of torture stayed in place. Torture of detainees continued after Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi was elected in 2012, human rights groups say, and after the military deposed Morsi in July 2013.

(Egyptian government officials dispute claims of torture. Though the Interior Ministry has in recent years admitted some violations, it asserts that it holds offending officers accountable and also said it was training police in human rights principles.)

Throughout, opponents of the Egyptian regime expressed dismay at the U.S. role in cooperating with the Egyptian security forces. “Mubarak used the security agencies to continue his rule,” said Mohsen Bahnasy, a human rights lawyer specializing in cases of torture said, “The United States unfortunately did not take a stance against the Egyptian government’s use of torture. The U.S. used Egypt as a bridge,” he said, “sending prisoners to be tortured here before moving them elsewhere.”

The Senate Intelligence Committee report argues that the CIA’s rendition program undermined efforts to compel other countries to change their treatment of detainees. It describes an incident in 2004 when the U.S. Secretary of State ordered the ambassador to an unidentified country to urge that country open its prisons to the International Committee of the Red Cross. At the time, the report states, the country whose name is redacted “was holding detainees being held in secret at the CIA’s behest.”

Since the military takeover in Egypt, an estimated 40,000 people have been detained in a clampdown on opponents of the regime, according to a database maintained by WikiThawra, an initiative of the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights. Former detainees describe beatings, burns, and electric shocks. Amnesty International, Egyptian human rights rights groups, and journalists have also documented the forced disappearance of dozens of civilians held at Al-Azouly detention center in the Galaa military base near the city of Ismailia. The government refuses to acknowledge the facility.

“The CIA and the Egyptian intelligence were cooperating at a time when the Mubarak government was hated and the people revolted against it,” says Lotfy. “The foreign policy of the U.S. has to keep in mind that the stability they want to reach by fighting terrorism in this way is a false stability.”

TIME intelligence

What Did Top Democrats Know About CIA Interrogation?

The lobby of the CIA Headquarters Building in McLean, Virginia
Larry Downing—Reuters The lobby of the CIA Headquarters Building in McLean, Va.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee during much of the George W. Bush Administration, has a message for Jose Rodriguez, a former top CIA official in charge of the post-9/11 interrogation program.

“The man’s an idiot,” he told TIME.

In a Washington Post op-ed Friday, Rodriguez accused Rockefeller and other Democrats of hypocrisy for opposing the torture of terrorism suspects after being briefed on such actions and giving their tacit support, a claim Rockefeller clearly felt was ridiculous given his years of investigating the agency’s use of torture and efforts to publicly release the Senate Democrats’ CIA torture report, which finally occurred on Tuesday.

But Rodriguez’s charge of Democratic hypocrisy—shared by many Republicans on Capitol Hill—beg a review of what two top Democratic Congressmen, Rockefeller and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, knew of the CIA’s interrogation program.

In early September 2002, the CIA briefed Pelosi and other top members on the House Intelligence Committee about the enhanced interrogation techniques. The members and staffers “questioned the legality of these techniques if other countries would use them,” but the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center legal staff deleted from a draft memo that sentence, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s new report. Rodriguez, who was CTC director at the time, replied in an email, “short and sweet.”

Pelosi’s definitive response has been the same since 2009, when she said that she was not told in the briefing that waterboarding or any other enhanced methods had already been used—even though they had been. She did recall then that the Administration did say those methods are legal. She added that she heard about the use of some of the EITs in early 2003, but did not speak out due to government secrecy rules and worked to ban the use of torture through legislation and electing a Democratic President in 2008. Rodriguez charges that he briefed Pelosi of the EITs, including waterboarding, had been used in 2002.

One of Rodriguez’s main points on an alleged Democratic flip-flop is that congressional leaders like Rockefeller tacitly supported the interrogation program as they participated in dozens of briefings between 2002 and 2009. Rockefeller took to the Senate floor Tuesday to detail how exasperating those briefings were, calling them “a check box exercise that the Administration planned to use and later did use so they could disingenuously claim that they had—in a phrase I will never forget—‘fully brief the Congress.’” He called his efforts to investigate the CIA interrogation program, which led to Intelligence Chairman Dianne Feinstein’s new study, “the hardest fight I’ve ever been through.”

“The CIA refused to provide me or anybody else with any additional information about the program,” he said of briefings that began in 2003, when he rose to a top post on the Intelligence committee and first learned about some aspects of the interrogation program. “It was absurd,” he added of the 45-minute flip chart presentations led by Vice President Dick Cheney, recalling the drives back with Senate Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts in which they couldn’t speak to each other.

“They refused to offer anything to be of assistance,” he said of the CIA. “The briefings I received offered little or no insight into the CIA’s programs. Questions for follow-ups were rejected and at times I was not allowed to consult with legal counsel.”

Rockefeller added that he hoped that the more than 6,000-page Senate torture report is made public—so far a 500-page executive summary has been—to ensure U.S.-sanctioned torture “never happens again.”

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