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A CIA Interrogator Said the Agency Punished Him For Cooperating With Torture Probe

An interrogator who worked on "high-value detainees" told the CIA's internal watchdog that he believed the CIA withheld money from him as a reprisal.

by Jason Leopold
May 20 2015, 4:25pm

Photo by Larry Downing/Reuters

Related: Read more from 'Primary Sources,' the VICE News FOIA blog

A CIA interrogator of "high-value detainees" filed a complaint in April 2013 with the agency's internal watchdog in which he sought "whistleblower protection," claiming the CIA punished him as a "reprisal" for him cooperating with investigations into the treatment of detainees. The punishment, he said, was the CIA failing to reimburse him for legal fees he incurred as a result of the investigations.

This is according to declassified CIA reports obtained exclusively by VICE News in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit.

"[Redacted] contacted the CIA Office of Inspector General via the Report Fraud electronic database alleging reprisal," says the April 12, 2013 closing memorandum in the interrogator's case. "[Redacted] alleged that [redacted] legal fee reimbursement claim to the CIA was intentionally delayed by Office of General Counsel (OGC) personnel as reprisal for [redacted] cooperation with OIG investigations and other matters involving the Detainee Interrogation Program. [Redacted] served as an interrogator with the Renditions and Detention Group (RDG) of the [CIA's] National Clandestine Service (NCS)."

The interrogator was interviewed by the watchdog's office on June 6, 2013, six months after the Senate Intelligence Committee completed its report about the efficacy of the CIA's torture program. He said he was given an indemnification agreement to sign in 2009 just as a special prosecutor was appointed by Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate the destruction of CIA interrogation videotapes and, later, the deaths of two CIA detainees.

The interrogator, however, declined to sign it. It's unclear why; intelligence officials told VICE News that doing so would have meant he would have been restricted from cooperating with the investigations into the torture program, and that the CIA would have been required to cover all legal fees incurred by him as long as he was not involved in any transgressions. 

Related: The Watchdog, the Whistleblower, and the Secret CIA Torture Report

The CIA Office of General Counsel told the interrogator's lawyer that decisions about legal reimbursements could not be made until investigations by the special prosecutor, who was conducting a criminal probe into the CIA's torture program, and the Senate Intelligence Committee wrapped up.

"[Redacted] stated that OGC's delay in rendering payment of [redacted] claim amounted to a reprisal given other [redacted, believed to be interrogators] were paid money for similar legal fees," the inspector general's memo says. It is not clear how many other interrogators signed the indemnification agreement.

The special prosecutor's probe into the interrogator's complaint concluded — with no charges being filed — in August 2012, eight months before the interrogator filed the complaint. However, the CIA told the interrogator that the CIA needed to review the Senate's report to ensure that none of its officers were implicated in any wrongdoing prior to making a decision about indemnification claims. The first draft of the Senate's torture report would not be completed until December 2012.

According to the inspector general's memo, an official in the CIA's Office of General Counsel "explained that those who were not involved in conduct relevant to the [Senate] report have been reimbursed. However, those who were involved in conduct relevant to the report, including [the interrogator who filed the whistleblower complaint] will have to wait until the [Senate] report is reviewed to ensure they are not implicated in any wrongdoing. [Redacted] reiterated that the [Senate] report's findings have an impact on their indemnification."

That's notable because human rights groups have charged that the Senate report has not resulted in accountability, and the CIA lawyer's response seems to indicate that the interrogators whose conduct may have been singled out in the Senate report could be held accountable, at least financially. The interrogator who filed the complaint was cleared of wrongdoing. However, another way to read the Senate report is that everyone connected to the CIA's torture program was involved in wrongdoing.

The CIA Office of Inspector General (OIG) had received a separate complaint months earlier from Daniel P. Meyer, the Pentagon's top whistleblower advocate, according to interviews with US officials and documents VICE News obtained. He said he too was a whistleblower, and that the CIA was retaliating against him over a confidential email he sent to Senator Chuck Grassley, which was intercepted by the OIG, that said the watchdog's office failed to investigate interrogators' claims that they weren't reimbursed for legal fees.

Although Meyer is not identified by name in the inspector general documents obtained from the CIA by VICE News, US officials interviewed by VICE News said they believe it's the same case identified in a July 25, 2014 McClatchy report.

According to the CIA watchdog's memo in the case, on October 5, 2012, Meyer contacted the CIA's Office of General Counsel through his attorney "alleging whistleblower reprisal."

The McClatchy story also cited cases of interrogators complaining to the OIG that they were not reimbursed for legal fees. The legal fees, McClatchy reported, were eventually paid by CIA.

Related: Senate Torture Report Finds the CIA Was Less Effective and More Brutal Than Anyone Knew

The allegations leveled by Meyer were reviewed by the CIA Office of Inspector General between December 20, 2012 and June 14, 2013, and then passed to the Intelligence Community's Inspector General (ICIG) due to an undisclosed conflict of interest.

"The Assistant Inspector General for Investigations determined that because of a potential appearance of a conflict of interest, a full independent investigation into the allegations is not appropriate and directed the matter be referred to the Intelligence Community Inspector General for investigation," the CIA watchdog's closing memo in the case said.

The ICIG determined that Meyer "did not use proper channels when communicating with Congressional committees" and the "ICIG may be a fact witness in the matter, creating a conflict and precluding the them [sic] from initiating an investigation." The ICIG reached that conclusion because Meyer was apparently communicating information about the CIA's torture program to Grassley, a lawmaker who was not a member of the Senate committee that has oversight of the CIA, officials familiar with the case said. 

The CIA and the intelligence community at large have strict protocols directing how intelligence community employee may communicate with Congress. One source familiar with the case told VICE News that Meyer was "just reaching out to Grassley and didn't think anything of it. It wasn't 'official.' What became controversial is all of a sudden the CIA's inspector general got a hold of the email," and sought to punish Meyer.

Grassley has been a strong advocate for whistleblower protection. He co-authored the 1989 Whistleblower Protection Act and last year launched the Senate's first whistleblower protection caucus. It appears the interrogator who filed the complaint about the indemnification claims first contacted Meyer, who was working for the Pentagon, in the hopes of resolving his case prior to reaching out to the CIA inspector general.

The CIA declined to comment to VICE News about the watchdog complaints. 

McClatchy, citing knowledgeable sources, said Meyer's email to Grassley "related to allegations that the agency's inspector general, David Buckley, failed to properly investigate CIA retaliation against an agency official who cooperated in the [Senate] committee's [torture] probe."

"Somehow, according to these people, Buckley obtained the email," McClatchy reported. "After obtaining the email, Buckley approached Meyer's boss, I. Charles McCullough III, the inspector general for the 17-agency US intelligence community, in what may have constituted a violation of the confidentiality of the whistleblowing process."

Mark Zaid, a Washington, DC-based attorney who has represented numerous intelligence community employees in disputes against the CIA and other government agencies, told VICE News there is a "perception that whistleblowers are not to be protected unless they follow the law 100 percent."

Related: Read more from 'Primary Sources,' the VICE News FOIA blog

"The problem is many of them are not familiar with what the law actually requires," Zaid said. "It has no teeth. If the CIA inspector general cared about protecting [the agency's] whistleblowers, it would do so regardless of the process they followed. And based on this memo, the [CIA OIG] ultimately did absolutely nothing."

The ICIG determined there was insufficient evidence of whistleblower reprisal to warrant further investigation in both cases. The CIA inspector general closed the case on June 29, 2013, a few weeks before Meyer started a new job as the executive director, Intelligence Community Whistleblowing & Source Protection, which is part of the Office of Director of National Intelligence.

Reached by email, Meyer declined to comment to VICE News about his case. 

Andrea Williams, a spokeswoman for Office of the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, where Meyer works, said she does not believe Meyer is the employee who filed a complaint with the CIA's watchdog. 

"It is accurate that Meyer has blown the whistle on federal wrongdoing. However, he has never blown the whistle on Intelligence Community activities, nor has he been treated in a manner by intelligence community elements, including the CIA, which would cause him to file a reprisal complaint," Williams told VICE News.

Follow Jason Leopold on Twitter: @JasonLeopold

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