The Queen of Torture
December 20, 2014 7:12 AM   Subscribe

"She dropped the ball when the C.I.A. was given information that might very well have prevented the 9/11 attacks; she gleefully participated in torture sessions afterward; she misinterpreted intelligence in such a way that it sent the C.I.A. on an absurd chase for Al Qaeda sleeper cells in Montana. And then she falsely told congressional overseers that the torture worked." "But instead of being sanctioned, she was promoted."
posted by 445supermag (63 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
Bet she looks just like Jessica Chastien.
posted by sammyo at 7:18 AM on December 20, 2014


guess we found that bad apple.

"CIA's abusive interrogation and detention program..."

full stop. this writer is dishonest.
posted by ennui.bz at 7:22 AM on December 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


Her name is Alfreda Frances Bikowsky.
posted by grounded at 7:32 AM on December 20, 2014 [14 favorites]


Obviously she should answer, in public and in full, for her misdoings, but I am a little wary of these articles; they could so easily be used to support the "few bad apples" narrative. The scapegoating of one person is no substitute for the necessary reform of an entire institution.
posted by Pallas Athena at 7:35 AM on December 20, 2014 [48 favorites]


Her name is Alfreda Frances Bikowsky.

I was just going to say that "A senior female CIA official who has testified before Congress and was one of the inspirations for the protagonist of Zero Dark Thirty" is not very much anonymity.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 7:37 AM on December 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


this writer is dishonest

Why? Because they don't use the word "torture" every single time they describe the program? Despite having it in the headline and numerous other places in the piece?
posted by yoink at 7:37 AM on December 20, 2014 [20 favorites]


Yeah, instead of talking about the widespread systemic culture of permissiveness and facilitation leading right to the damn White House let's focus on this one person who failed upwards, like so many others. Bonus: let's make sure sure she's a woman to so we can paint her as some crazy cold-hearted bitch, unlike all the men of goodwill who were just trying to protect their country it wandered slightly astray. Oh hey! We can call her the Queen of Torture to really make her seem like some unhinged Game of Thrones character.

This is some bullshit, right here.
posted by dry white toast at 7:44 AM on December 20, 2014 [67 favorites]


In response to the linked reports, The Intercept goes straight ahead with the name and more detail. Meet Alfreda Bikowsky, the Senior Officer at the Center of the CIA's Torture Scandals.

I'm also distressed by this simplistic "it's all one woman's fault!" story. The United States torture was a collective action performed by many Americans and justified up to and including the President. All Americans bear some moral responsibility and many Americans bear specific legal responsibility for the illegal actions they took.
posted by Nelson at 7:48 AM on December 20, 2014 [27 favorites]


There's one thing I don't get. Is the reason that she and a few other CIA operatives willfully withheld information from the FBI pre-911 attacks that they wanted to control the situation themselves? If indeed (from Wikipedia) "Rossini further states that Bikowsky told congressional investigators in 2002 that she hand-delivered al-Mihdhar's visa information to FBI headquarters. This was later proven false by FBI log books" how is she still in any position of power?

Were they playing at being super spies?
posted by readery at 7:50 AM on December 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


Its unfortunate headline aside, I don't read this as pinning all of the blame for the US's secret torture regime on one person, particularly when this short piece is put in the context of the rest of Jane Mayer's exceptional reporting on these issues. Obviously the whole national security and intelligence community, up to and including the White House, is complicit here. Torture doesn't become routinized without this kind of tacit systemic endorsement.

But on the other side, you can't put "the system" in jail, only individuals. So stories like these are needed side-by-side with institutional analysis, so that figures like this agent can be identified, investigated, and prosecuted. When it comes to doling out responsibility, the systems viewpoint and the individual viewpoint don't exclude each other, which I take to be the moral of Mayer's last two sentences.
posted by informavore at 8:03 AM on December 20, 2014 [25 favorites]


necessary reform of an entire institution

No reform. Defund it and shut it down. The CIA is terminally incompetent and provides no value to the US other than being a continual source of embarrassment. Get rid of it.
posted by phooky at 8:15 AM on December 20, 2014 [15 favorites]


The CIA is terminally incompetent and provides no value to the US other than being a continual source of embarrassment

Embarrassment? No, what the CIA does is create massive blowback which has cost the US literally thousands of lives and quite possibly trillions of dollars.

If all the CIA did was embarrass us, I wouldn't be nearly as angry.
posted by eriko at 8:18 AM on December 20, 2014 [33 favorites]


Zero Dark Thirty is really turning out to fit the fascist propaganda mold perfectly. lol

At this point, any CIA officers doing jail time for torture improves our chances for institutional reform, well the C.I.A. will get off scot free after illegal hacking the Senate. I'm trilled with even just publishing names to limit agents future travel options outside the U.S. given our inability to punish them here.

Imagine if the torture case eventually make the foreign press eager to out C.I.A. agents, ultimately making it impossible for them to operate effectively.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:22 AM on December 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


So they've identified the sacrificial lamb who will allow everyone to say "Well, we solved that torture problem by putting her in jail."

Whoopee.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:28 AM on December 20, 2014 [8 favorites]


I don't know. If I remember, didn't the Junior Straussian League keep yelling for results, and the results they wanted?

And yeah, I've refused to see Zero Dark Thirty. It's worse that it's good.
posted by Trochanter at 8:29 AM on December 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm trilled with even just publishing names to limit agents future travel options outside the U.S. given our inability to punish them here.

Because the CIA doesn't ever fake travel documents. Nope, nope, nope.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:33 AM on December 20, 2014


I watched it late at night on-demand at my ex boyfriend's house while he passed out on me, stoned. Didn't want to wake him and we were comfortable on the sofa, so what the hell, I thought. (This exact sequence of events led to several regrettable movie watchings.)

Sickening, sickening movie. I'd be unsurprised if CIA money financed it, it was that blatant as propaganda.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:34 AM on December 20, 2014 [7 favorites]


The Road to Guantánamo is an altogether much more accurate picture, if anyone's looking to counter the propaganda of Zero Dark Thirty. I wasn't so sure back in '06, but now, well, the screenwriters could practically sue Diane Feinstein for plagiarism.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:51 AM on December 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


While if she lied to Congress, she should certainly be called to account (as should her superiors who have done the same), however, I wouldn't be surprised if she's made some enemies in the CIA who are happy to leak damaging information. They get a sacrificial lamb to throw to the press, and get rid of someone who has been, perhaps, difficult.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 8:52 AM on December 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'd be unsurprised if CIA money financed it, it was that blatant as propaganda.

Man, I did *not* have the same reaction to it at all. I thought it drove home over and over again that whatever euphemisms people chose to describe our treatment of detainees, it was torture. (Alyssa Rosenberg's take on the film seems right to me.)
posted by asterix at 9:02 AM on December 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


Alfreda Frances Bikowsky's article on wikipedia dates to 2 July 2013 but lacks any talk page comments or edit fights to date, that's how uncontroversial outing her is.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:03 AM on December 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


Man, I did *not* have the same reaction to it at all. I thought it drove home over and over again that whatever euphemisms people chose to describe our treatment of detainees, it was torture.

Fair enough. I got that too, but tacked on was basically "yeh but they were all bad" from True Lies. What I mean is, yeah they showed what was unequivocally torture, but every single thing said by the characters was justifying it. If you're coming from where you and I are coming from, that justification rings totally hollow--torture can't be justified. But I don't think that's how the movie was intended, nor how it was largely received; it was 24 in long form.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:07 AM on December 20, 2014


someone has been outing cia officers at cryptocomb.org for a while now, and in the last couple of weeks has linked a few other people to specific stuff in the torture report
posted by p3on at 9:14 AM on December 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


If you're coming from where you and I are coming from, that justification rings totally hollow--torture can't be justified. But I don't think that's how the movie was intended, nor how it was largely received; it was 24 in long form.

I can see that argument, but then I come back to the facts that the supporters of torture a) refuse to describe it that way and b) do everything they can to obfuscate what our treatment of detainees was actually like. And I don't actually think the movie was intended to justify torture; I think Bigelow and Boal wanted to make as journalistic a film as they could, and erred by not considering the way the characters' attempts to justify their actions would be taken. (Basically, I think they were thinking "this is what the people who really did this said about it, and we've got an obligation to show that too".)
posted by asterix at 9:16 AM on December 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


I hated Zero Dark Thirty on every level. It was a bad film, and a terrible propaganda. But now to discover that the featured hero of the film is the sole person they are throwing under the bus for all this is just ludicrous.
posted by Catblack at 9:16 AM on December 20, 2014 [4 favorites]


Sickening, sickening movie. I'd be unsurprised if CIA money financed it, it was that blatant as propaganda.

Much like The Hurt Locker, I thought it was an interesting study of how the larger process destroyed Chastain's character. Though of course lots of people (mistakenly IMHO) also thought The Hurt Locker was a gross pro-war movie.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:20 AM on December 20, 2014 [5 favorites]


The movie showed that the torture worked. That's a giant falsehood. In regards to that movie's own story it's false.

But I agree with Rosenberg here: I’d like to see the more low-level but still repulsive use of this trope, the threat of torture in police interrogations, slink ignominiously away from popular culture, where it’s become entirely normalized.

Man, do I ever notice this a lot more. I was listening to an old Philip Marlowe radio show and he's punching some guy out to get his info. Think about how pervasive that trope is.
posted by Trochanter at 9:22 AM on December 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


Cryptocomb has been publishing a lot of information about CIA agents' identities. I'm assuming they're the background source for some of these articles we've been seeing in the press.

My question is who runs Cryptocomb? The name and site recall Cryptome, John Young's excellent and venerable leaked-secrets site. But there's no specific reason to think Young is running Cryptocomb and he's generally not one to keep his activities secret. (FWIW, in 2012 Young endorsed Cryptocomb.) So if not Young, then who?
posted by Nelson at 9:28 AM on December 20, 2014


The movie showed that the torture worked.

Does it? I didn't come away from it thinking that it did (and neither did Spencer Ackerman).
posted by asterix at 9:28 AM on December 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


I don't think it's clear that there's bus-throwing going on here. Bikowski's identity was leaked piecemeal after she did a hell of a lot of interviews with journalists. Using your own middle name and distinctive description is a pretty tenuous way of maintaining confidentiality. Bikowski is reported to be jealous of the credit for the successes she feels were enabled by her actions, and some of the press contact seems to result from a desire on her part (and that of some of her superiors?) to "set the record straight.

While it's clear that in a more just world, we'd meet our responsibility under the Torture Convention and prosecute or extradite the architects of the torture program, I don't think that failing to do so gives the implementers and advocates of it a free pass. Even though it's hard to believe Bush, Cheny, and Yoo will ever see justice, that doesn't' mean that prosecuting those who directly ordered sodomizing, drowning, and other abuse of prisoners is unjust.

We can't reach the monsters' head to cut it off. That doesn't mean that it's unfair of us to slash at it's fingers before they can crush more innocent people. God only knows they have plenty of blood on them to justify it.
posted by CHoldredge at 9:38 AM on December 20, 2014 [9 favorites]


I think what we're saying--or, at least, what I'm saying--is the exact opposite. Prosecuting her (which should, don't get me wrong, absolutely happen--ideally at a War Crimes tribunal) is what will give the architects a free pass. She's going to be the scapegoat.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:54 AM on December 20, 2014


Forget Zero Dark Thirty.

The Siege was one of the most prescient movies of the past 30 years.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:13 AM on December 20, 2014 [8 favorites]


FBI interrogator Ali Soufan was having great success getting information from Abu Zubaydah without torture when the CIA came along and started waterboarding him instead. She must have been part of that.

Ali Soufan: I interrogated the top terrorist in US custody. Then the CIA came to town

Ali Soufan Battled the System to End Torture. He's Finally Winning.
posted by homunculus at 10:37 AM on December 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


So Zero Dark Thirty was propaganda? Shocking!
posted by cjorgensen at 10:41 AM on December 20, 2014


Who here remembers Janis Karpinski?
posted by IndigoJones at 10:49 AM on December 20, 2014 [4 favorites]


Scape goat, they must really need one. Look at the dark portraits of the director on the Huffington Post today. He appears plagued by black rage. He must be tired of being in the crosshairs, but then again it is more pleasant than many things his organization has sanctioned.
posted by Oyéah at 10:56 AM on December 20, 2014


I'm having a hard time understanding the false dilemma between "terrible person does terrible things and should be punished" on one hand and "burn the CIA to the ground and salt the earth" on the other. She inarguably did horrible things, repeatedly, for years. Surely she deserves prosecution. This doesn't preclude razing Langley and building a giant iron wall around the site.

I can understand there being a fear that all the sins of the CIA will be put on her head, though, if Iran-Contra is any lesson to go by. Worse still, when she re-emerges a couple years later to host some show on Fox.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 11:06 AM on December 20, 2014 [8 favorites]


They all need to be a möbius strip of bean feeding and defacating tube. Rational, sane, brave, balanced human beings, don't do what the torturers did, with any impetus. They did not miss the 9/11 boat, without it, the Bush Admin had no excuse to start the Iraq war. Their crime was to facilitate it by deliberate omission. The whole crux of the thing did not rest with one person, that is the BS. What is it going to take to bring this shipwreck of state back up to the light?
posted by Oyéah at 11:21 AM on December 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


>Rational, sane, brave, balanced human beings, don't do what the torturers did, with any impetus.

Actually otherwise normal people can be, on the whole, reliably coerced into immoral behavior in the right environment. The Milgram experiments demonstrated that - 65 percent administered the final fatal shock. I think its important to remember that 'we' have no special immunity to evil.
posted by Ansible at 12:01 PM on December 20, 2014 [5 favorites]


I'm fine with throwing her under a bus. Then fill the bus up with the rest of the Torture Inc. Gang and drive them all to The Hague.

Sick bastards.
posted by spitbull at 12:17 PM on December 20, 2014 [7 favorites]


I'm also distressed by this simplistic "it's all one woman's fault!" story.

You don't have to take that interpretation, you know. Think of her more as a door than a bucket.

She could drop dime on a ton of people.
posted by rhizome at 12:40 PM on December 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


Rational, sane, brave, balanced human beings, don't do what the torturers did, with any impetus.

Aside Ansible, this is bullshit One True Scotsman logic.
posted by rhizome at 12:42 PM on December 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


Sick bastards

Really my response to all of this rationalizing as "we were scared," why do we still have these bedwetters at the top of the law enforcement and intelligence communities? I don't doubt that there is a sickness inherent to committing the acts, but the motivation was wimpiness, a lack of moral character, and bad ethics from the top of the US Government.
posted by rhizome at 12:45 PM on December 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


Her name is Alfreda Frances Bikowsky.

Coincidentally, I found her picture when I looked up "piece of shit" in the dictionary.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:16 PM on December 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


This doesn't read to me like a "one bad apple" story. the reports are pretty damning about the institutional system and politics.

And the "throwing a woman under a bus" story doesn't really work either, because she's not the odd one out as a female:

"As recently as 20 years ago, there were no women in the upper ranks of the CIA. Now three of the top four officers and five of the top eight are women, and when Director Brennan’s out of the country, Avril Haines runs the show. An agency that once oozed machismo is now almost half female, and has become the home of “the Sisterhood,” the powerful band of women who tracked bin Laden to his hideout."
posted by Bwithh at 1:21 PM on December 20, 2014 [9 favorites]


I feel out of the loop for not knowing about cryptomb. John Young doesn't endorse much, which makes me imagine he knows a bit about the site (and potentially its operators).

I notice a couple of difference. John would never use gmail (as this site does for its contact information). Also, they re-used* cryptome.org's wonderful 'how-we-respond-to-threats' warning:
Cryptocomb welcomes documents for publication that are prohibited by governments worldwide, in particular material on freedom of expression, privacy, cryptology, dual-use technologies, national security, intelligence, and secret governance -- open, secret and classified documents - but not limited to those. Documents are removed from this site only by order served directly by a U.S Court having jurisdiction. Bluffs will be published if comical but otherwise ignored. This blurb is used with permission of Cryptome.org Email: cryptocomb[at]gmail.com
*I was going to use the word 'plagiarized', but then noted that they apparently asked for permission, and gave attribution to the wording.
posted by el io at 1:42 PM on December 20, 2014


> She could drop dime on a ton of people.

She could, but wouldn't willingly: she sounds like a true believer, a fundamentalist crusader.

I suspect that only enhanced interrogation techniques would work with her.
posted by fredludd at 2:33 PM on December 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


this woman—whose name the C.I.A. has asked the news media to withhold

Will the New Yorker do anything I ask them to too, or do you have to be special?
posted by threeants at 2:50 PM on December 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


I guess is says something for gender equality that we are equal-opportunity-employers for monsters too.
posted by nickggully at 3:07 PM on December 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


> The Milgram experiments demonstrated that

The Milgram experiments demonstrated that you can fast-talk people into doing bad things as long as they don't have much chance to think about it - and little else.

Milgram varied his conditions in various iterations of his experiment, but that one condition was not changed - that the victim, er, subject of the experiment never got to leave the room.

My guess is that if Milgram had set up the experiment and then let the subjects leave for lunch, 90% of them would not come back; and if he'd let them go home for the night, nearly 100% of them wouldn't have come back.

The Miligram experiment is not great science - more Candid Camera than psychology - and if you read the original paper all its flaws are right there.

We do in fact have some hard data about real-world situations like guards at concentration camps and the results say better things about humans. For example, even though guards at Nazi death camps were picked for the job, a large portion of them requested transfers almost immediately, and the Nazis had a policy of granting those transfers without any blemish on the soldiers' records - showing they knew that a sizeable portion of even dedicated Nazis would be unable to perform this job.

So when someone like this person of filth commits atrocities, you cannot use the limited and flawed Milgram experiments to somehow absolve her of one jot or tittle of the responsibility for her crimes. Perhaps a fast talking guy in a white coat can make you do something bad, once, if you don't have a chance to think about it, but if you continue to perform atrocities over days, weeks and months, the moral responsibility is entirely yours.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 4:32 PM on December 20, 2014 [6 favorites]


Her and Lyndie England. Why are all the torturers always women? And when will their sisters-in-crime Jane Yoo and Ricky Cheney be exposed?
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:19 PM on December 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


.. you can't put "the system" in jail, only individuals.

Why are all the torturers always women?


You put "the system" in jail one individual at a time.

Why are all the tortures (that are outed) always women*? FTFY

*Always women, or some little peon that the shit rolled downhill on.
The boys giving the orders--they're gold.
posted by BlueHorse at 5:42 PM on December 20, 2014 [4 favorites]


We do in fact have some hard data about real-world situations like guards at concentration camps and the results say better things about humans. For example, even though guards at Nazi death camps were picked for the job, a large portion of them requested transfers almost immediately, and the Nazis had a policy of granting those transfers without any blemish on the soldiers' records - showing they knew that a sizeable portion of even dedicated Nazis would be unable to perform this job.

That's certainly not what Christopher Browning found when he wrote Ordinary Men: of the 500 men in the battalion he studied, only 12 opted out of participation in the Holocaust. And they weren't specifically chosen for the job either.
posted by asterix at 6:14 PM on December 20, 2014 [7 favorites]


So we've gotten to the under-bus tossing stage with all this as the political cockroaches scatter in the light.

Well, at least the process is predictable. Loathsome, but predictable.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:55 PM on December 20, 2014


asterix: Good reference, thanks for the correction - I shan't make that claim again.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:14 PM on December 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


Shit rolls downhill. There is a formal echelon above which plausible deniability is a job perq. Below that threshold culpability is framed with job transfer, frozen rank, retirement with pay, general discharge, and jail. These echelons are not hard to discover. Enlisted soldiers, for example, inhabit the two lowest echelons. This is called the chain of command. The lower links of the chain are always dipped in shit, as it were.

(For examples of how the various echelons are affected by exposure, I suggest you look at Abu Ghraib, Blackwater, and No-Bid contracts. Gigs at Fox are a cute, but rare, example of something else.)

The CIA doesn't use the shit-rolls-downhill imagery to describe what happens in their ranks, mostly because quite often it's they who start the shitslide in other venues. Anyhow, unlike the military, the chain of command in the CIA is so short that it's hard to determine who goes under the bus.

Their go-to response is to tell you to [redacted] off, because [redacted] is so [redacted] that if [redacted] told you, [redacted] would have to [redacted] you. Or else they just print off a boiler plate catechism to take with them to the congressional hearings.
posted by mule98J at 11:17 AM on December 21, 2014


they could so easily be used to support the "few bad apples" narrative

I sometimes feel like I'm the only person on Earth who actually remembers the full saying ("one bad apple can spoil the bunch"), which is the opposite of how it seems to normally be used nowadays. Mostly by people in positions of power trying to deny culpability for their organizations. Is it overly prescriptivist to find the modern usage fairly infuriating?
posted by Wandering Idiot at 7:47 PM on December 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


When I read
Queen of torture
I said "Catty?"
posted by clavdivs at 10:07 PM on December 21, 2014




CIA Travel Advice To Operatives
posted by jeffburdges at 3:15 PM on December 22, 2014


Audio version : Unmasking a CIA Criminal [HOPE X Talk]
posted by jeffburdges at 8:56 PM on December 22, 2014




To this day, everytime I read about Foggo this starts playing in my head (background.)
posted by homunculus at 12:15 PM on January 13, 2015


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