Saturday, May 19, 2012

Repost of Appeal to CIA on Mitchell-Jessen Al Qaeda Paper

The following is the text of my letter to the CIA, appealing their decision not to release the paper written by James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, “Recognizing and Developing Countermeasures to Al Qa’ida Resistance to Interrogation Techniques: A Resistance Training Perspective.” The Mitchell/Jessen paper has been referred to in numerous news accounts and Senate testimony as the precursor to the SERE-based torture program used by both the CIA and the Department of Defense beginning (it seems) in early 2002.

In a letter to me dated March 7, 2012, the CIA responded that my appeal had been "accepted and arrangements will be made for its consideration by the appropriate members of the Agency Release Panel. The Acting Information and Privacy Coordinator for the agency noted that they didn't think they could respond within the 20 working days they were supposed to. He was right, as I have not heard anything back yet.

Nevertheless, I'm publishing the letter because it documents the ridiculousness of holding such documents secret. I'd note that since I wrote my letter, revelations about the use of SERE's PREAL manual in the construction and approval of the CIA's program (the latter by Yoo and Company at the OLC), only amplifies what I've written here.
February 13, 2012

Agency Release Panel
c/o Susan Viscuso
Information and Privacy Coordinator
Central Intelligence Agency
Washington, DC 20505

Reference: EOM-2012-00039

Dear Agency Release Panel:

This letter constitutes an administrative appeal to the Agency Release Panel, such appeal being guaranteed by Section 3.5(e) of Executive Order 13526.

I am writing to appeal the determination by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) with regard to my Mandatory Declassification request filed on September 28, 2011, reference number EOM-2012-00039, for the paper titled “Recognizing and Developing Countermeasures to Al Qa’ida Resistance to Interrogation Techniques: A Resistance Training Perspective.” Copies of the original request letter and the agency responses are attached to this appeal request.

By a letter of February 8, 2012, the CIA Information and Privacy Coordinator Susan Viscuso informed me the document responsive to my request had been located. However, Ms. Viscuso informed me the CIA determined the document could not be released in sanitized form, citing Section 1.4(c) of Executive Order 13526.

The following are my reasons for appeal:

1) According to the CIA denial letter, cting Section 3.5(e) of Executive Order 13526, it would appear that the CIA contends that “unauthorized disclosure” of this document “could reasonably be expected to cause identifiable or describable damage to the national security” as it pertains to intelligence activities (including covert action), intelligence sources or methods, or cryptology.”

2) In his book, The Black Banners, former FBI agent Ali Soufan stated what the authors of this document concluded about countermeasures to Al Qaeda resistance methods. This was also covered in the worldwide press, as this quote from the UK Telegraph demonstrates:
“It was on the basis of the information in this manual that the two reportedly concluded that harsh techniques would be needed to break al-Qaeda detainees,” he writes in a new book called “The Black Banners.”

“This constituted a misreading of the Manchester manual and in fact Boris’s techniques played into what the manual instructed captured terrorists to do.”
URL accessed 2/13/2012

Accordingly, I contend that the general conclusions drawn in the article withheld is already a matter of public record, and should be declassified and released.

3) Given the place this paper holds in the development of the government’s interrogation program after 9/11, as stated in both the Senate Armed Service Committee “Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody” and the CIA Inspector General’s May 2004 Special Review, “Counterterrorism Detention and Interrogation Activities,” it strains credulity to believe that some of the factual material in this document has not been made publicly available in other formats.

An example of such likely material can be found in the public release of the Al Qaeda Manchester Manual, which includes a chapter on Al Qaeda countermeasures to interrogation. If the paper I have asked to be declassified includes a discussion of the Al Qaeda countermeasures of any descriptive sort, then I argue that at least some of this material, which could be segregable, should be released.

The Manchester Manual itself can be accessed on the Internet at

4) In the Senate Armed Services Committee report referenced above, there are numerous references to the kinds of materials that had been identified as countermeasures by one of the authors of the report requested. As one instance, the Committee report references use of such materials in a slide show training by JPRA given to DIA personnel on March 8, 2002. The kinds of countermeasures advocated include “isolation and degradation,” “sensory deprivation,” and both physiological and psychological “pressures.”

5) Furthermore, a JPRA trainer participating in the March 8 training, Joseph Witsch, is quoted as saying the countermeasures identified in the slides were “just an interpretation of what we were doing at the time and what we constantly did when we trained SERE students.” (pg. 9 of the report). The SASC report then lists a number of such SERE techniques that were also included in the slide show, and likely concern countermeasures, as pointed out by Mr. Witsch, in regards to Al Qaeda resistance methods, including, in addition to the above techniques, “sensory overload,” “disruption of sleep and biorhythms,” and “manipulation of diet.”

Therefore, I maintain that in this instance, too, the material in the requested document is at least largely in the public domain, or already previously declassified.

6) In addition to the instances quoted above, there are a number of instances wherein countermeasures for the resistance methods of proposed Al Qaeda prisoners is described. Indeed, the August 2, 2002 “Memorandum for John Rizzo” on the “Interrogation of an al Qaeda Operative,” declassified by the Obama administration, discusses a number of techniques used as part of an “increased pressure phase” made necessary because of the operatives supposed unwillingness “to disclose further information.”

The list of techniques does not need to be enumerated here, as they were publicized in a plethora of articles following release of the Memorandum. Once more, it appears more than likely that these countermeasures used in the interrogation of the operative (Abu Zubaydah) drew upon the initial analyses utilized in the first examination of Al Qaeda countermeasures written in December 2001 or January 2002, for which I have requested declassification. In other words, it seems highly likely that the substantive discussion of countermeasures in the contested document has already largely been a subject of public revelation and discourse.

7) Finally, I would argue that release of this material is in the public interest, far beyond whatever intelligence activities, sources or methods are involved. Human intelligence sources that might be identifiable could be redacted from the document, as is so often done. The source of the material, largely from the Manchester document, and the methods enumerated, either from the Manchester document, or from SERE methods of counter-resistance, are already well-established in the public record.

There remains only the possibility that this document is associated with some covert action that could cause damage to national security if revealed. However, I find it unlikely that such covert action is discussed in this particular document. Should a classified program of some sort be mentioned in the document, surely that could be segregated and redacted.

The origins of the CIA interrogation program, particularly the “enhanced interrogation techniques,” has been of high interest to the public, with hundreds of articles and books written, symposiums organized and attended. It has been the subject of documentaries and newspaper editorials. The public’s interest in release of this document would have the following benefits:

a. It would provide information about relatively recent and controversial government policy decisions, in particular in relation to interrogation
b. It could potentially expose government wrong-doing or misconduct
c. It would contribute to the ongoing national debate about torture and interrogation, a debate that includes both civil liberties organizations, such as the ACLU, and former administration high officials, such as former Vice President Cheney
d. It would be of scholarly interest for those who are writing the histories of the early years in the “war on terror”

In conclusion, I ask that the Agency Release Panel reconsider the decision to maintain classification of the paper titled “Recognizing and Developing Countermeasures to Al Qa’ida Resistance to Interrogation Techniques: A Resistance Training Perspective,” and release it in total or segregable portions.

I look forward to receiving your decision on this appeal in a timely fashion. If you have any questions, or believe discussion of this matter would be beneficial, please contact me directly at or (415) XXX-XXXX.


No comments:

Search for Info/News on Torture

Google Custom Search
Add to Google ">View blog reactions

This site can contain copyrighted material, the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. I am making such material available in my effort to advance understanding of political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. I believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.