A View from Inside the CIA

Melissa Block talks with New York Times reporter Tim Weiner for a view from inside the CIA. Weiner is also the author of Legacy Of Ashes: The History of the CIA.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

We're joined now by longtime intelligence reporter Tim Weiner of the New York Times. He's author of "Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA."

And, Tim, what are the restrictions on what the CIA can and cannot destroy?

Mr. TIM WEINER (Intelligence Reporter, The New York Times; Author, "Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA"): The struggle here is whether the CIA is able to keep its sources and methods secret in the face of a legitimate order of a court or request by Congress to give up the secrets. This kind of tug-of-war has been going on for 60 years ever since the CIA was created.

BLOCK: The CIA director, Michael Hayden, has said these tapes were destroyed to protect the identity of CIA colleagues who took part in these interrogations. That would apply to a whole lot of documents, photos, tapes in CIA files, no?

Mr. WEINER: On that theory, millions of CIA documents could be destroyed.

BLOCK: And one way of protecting the identity, wouldn't it be, pixilate the videotape, alter it in some way?

Mr. WEINER: The - what is being protected here is the officers who were conducting these interrogations. They believe, no doubt, in good faith, that they were carrying out the lawful orders of their commanders, and ultimately the president of the United States.

Now, the problem comes when the chief of the Clandestine Service - Jose Rodriguez was his name, in 2005 - apparently gives an order that these things be destroyed. If there's a legitimate request pending from the Congress or the courts or the 9/11 Commission, then you've got a problem, potentially.

BLOCK: According to your paper, the New York Times, the CIA director at the time, Porter Goss, was not told about that order from Jose Rodriguez. Would that be unusual?

Mr. WEINER: That would not be unusual. And remember that Mr. Goss was the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. So, he could've been informed about this in that capacity, before taking over at CIA.

We have - if you go back in history, there is a constant struggle between trying to run our open democracy and trying to run a secret intelligence service. Did the CIA tell the Warren Commission, for example, in 1964, when it was investigating the murder of President Kennedy, that at the time of that assassination, the United States, through the CIA, was trying to kill Fidel Castro? No.

If you go through the Iran-Contra investigation, you know, the chief of the Clandestine Service back then was federally convicted of perjury and misleading Congress. He was then president - excuse me, pardoned by President Bush in 1992.

BLOCK: Can you think of other cases where CIA officers were prosecuted for destroying documents or any other evidence?

Mr. WEINER: Throughout Iran-Contra, you have charges - again, all these people were pardoned before or after trial by President Bush, the elder. You have the case 1997, where the former director of Central Intelligence, Richard M. Helms, pleading guilty to a federal misdemeanor charge of failing to inform Congress.

BLOCK: Different than destroying documents themselves, no?

Mr. WEINER: The power of the Congress or the courts to compel the CIA to turn over documents is a tortured series of cases. On the one hand, the CIA is duty bound to keep what it considers to be national security secrets.

On the other hand, we're an open Democratic society, and that give-and-take has gotten the CIA in trouble.

BLOCK: I want to take you back to 2002 and the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, which we now know was videotaped. First, is it known where it was carried out and what else is known about that interrogation?

Mr. WEINER: What is known for sure is the result of a transcript from a closed hearing that took place in March of this year at Guantanamo Bay. That hearing transcript has been censored and redacted, but he said he was a really a kind of a middleman who originally ran a training camp in Afghanistan. He says that he was tortured. Law enforcement and intelligence officials have said in the past that he was stripped, held in an icy room until he turned blue, subjected to ear-deafening blasts of music by the Red Hot Chili Peppers and other bands. But his full answers as to what else happened to him were not in the transcript.

BLOCK: Okay. New York Times reporter Tim Weiner, thanks very much.

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