March 27, 2013
Officer Tied to Tapes’ Destruction Moves Up C.I.A. Ladder
By MARK MAZZETTI
WASHINGTON — A C.I.A. officer directly involved in the 2005 decision to destroy interrogation videotapes and who once ran one of the agency’s secret prisons has ascended to the top position within the C.I.A.’s clandestine service, according to current and former intelligence officials.
The officer, who has been serving in the position in an acting role for several weeks since the retirement of her direct boss, is one of a small group of candidates being considered to take over the job permanently.
The decision about whether to keep the officer in the job presents a dilemma for John O. Brennan, the new C.I.A. director, who said during his confirmation hearing last month that he was opposed to the brutal interrogation methods used by the spy agency in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks.
More broadly, Mr. Brennan — who himself was a senior C.I.A. official when the methods were being used — has indicated that he hopes to gradually refocus the spy agency away from manhunting and paramilitary operations like drone strikes and toward more traditional espionage activities.
But this might not be an easy task. The years since the Sept. 11 attacks have transformed the C.I.A., and a whole generation of clandestine officers are rising through the agency’s ranks who have more training in hunting, capturing and killing terror suspects than in typical spying work like recruiting foreign agents to spy against their governments for the United States.
The promotion of the officer, who spent years working inside the agency’s Counterterrorist Center and once was in charge of a so-called black site, played a role in developing the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation program, was first reported by The Washington Post. Because the officer remains undercover, The New York Times is not disclosing her identity.
The officer served as the C.I.A. station chief in London and New York, and the branch of the agency she now leads — called the National Clandestine Service — is responsible for all C.I.A. espionage operations and covert action programs. The head of the clandestine service is one of the most coveted jobs in the C.I.A., and has never before been run by a woman.
The destruction of dozens of C.I.A. interrogation tapes, documenting the interrogations of Qaeda operatives Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri in a secret C.I.A. detention facility in Thailand, was one of the most controversial episodes of the past decade. The Justice Department undertook an investigation into the matter after the destruction of the tapes was disclosed in late 2007, but no C.I.A. officers were criminally charged.
The destruction was ordered by Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., who at the time was the head of the agency’s clandestine service. The officer was serving as Mr. Rodriguez’s chief of staff, and several former C.I.A. officers said she was a strong advocate for getting rid of the tapes, which had been sitting for years inside a safe in the agency’s station in Bangkok. “She and Jose were the two main drivers for years for getting the tapes destroyed,” said one former senior C.I.A. officer.
In his book, “Hard Measures: How Aggressive C.I.A. Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives,” Mr. Rodriguez wrote that he had grown frustrated that the tapes might become public and expose the officers shown in them to jeopardy. The female officer held a meeting with agency lawyers, Mr. Rodriguez wrote, during which the officer was told that Mr. Rodriguez had authority to destroy the tapes. “My chief of staff drafted a cable approving the action that we had been trying to accomplish for so long,” Mr. Rodriguez wrote. “The cable left nothing to chance. It even told them how to get rid of the tapes.”
In addition to the female officer who is acting director, Mr. Brennan is considering several other candidates to run the clandestine service and has taken the unusual step of appointing three retired C.I.A. officers to advise him. Several former intelligence officials said they could not recall a similar situation when an agency director had formally enlisted an outside panel to advise him on a senior personnel decision, and suggested that Mr. Brennan may be looking for political cover in making the choice.
Preston Golson, a C.I.A. spokesman, said that was not the case. Mr. Brennan would make the final decision, he said, but “asking former senior agency officers to review the candidates will undoubtedly aid the selection process.” He said that the acting head of the clandestine service was a “strong candidate for the job,” but declined to provide any details of the officer’s biography.
As much as Mr. Brennan may want to put distance between the C.I.A. and its controversial past, he is also managing the spy agency’s formal response to a 6,000-page investigative report by the Senate Intelligence Committee. The report, which remains classified, is said to document a pattern of exaggerations and false statements by C.I.A. officers to the White House and Congress about the efficacy of the interrogation program.
© 2012 The New York Times Company
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