By MATTHEW COLE
Newly released internal CIA documents seem to show then-Director Porter Goss laughing when told he'll take the heat for the destruction of detainee interrogation videotapes, including tapes showing the waterboarding of top al Qaeda prisoner Abu Zubaydah.
But according to a former CIA official familiar with the meeting where the destruction of tapes was discussed, Goss was angry over not being informed until after the tapes had been destroyed. Goss had not approved the decision and was "beside himself" when he learned of the destruction, according to three former senior intelligence officials.
More than 100 pages of internal CIA documents released late Thursday show confusion in the upper ranks of the CIA about the destruction of scores of detainee interrogation videotapes in late 2005.
The documents and emails reveal the CIA at odds over who ordered the destruction of the videotapes and that several Agency and White House officials were "livid" over the tapes' destruction.
The videos were taken at a secret CIA prison in Thailand in 2002, and later stored at the CIA station in Bangkok for three years before they were ordered destroyed.
Jose Rodriguez, then the CIA's top clandestine service official, ordered the destruction of the videotapes, which showed the waterboarding and interrogations of Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, alleged al Qaeda mastermind of the 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole. Rodriguez believed that if the tapes were ever viewed out of context, "they would make us look terrible, it would be 'devastating' to us," according to one of the emails released.
The email, which describes a meeting on Nov. 10, 2005, the day after Rodriguez ordered the tapes destroyed, seems to show then director Goss agreeing with Rodriguez's decision.
Sent to the CIA's number three official shortly after the meeting, the email suggested that Goss had approved of the destruction and "laughed" and acknowledged that he "would take the heat" for the decision. "All in the room agreed," said the email, that release of the tapes would be a major problem.
But a former intelligence official familiar with the meeting said Goss had not approved of the destruction.
"Porter understood why Jose destroyed the tapes, but was against their destruction," the official told ABCNEWS.com. At the meeting, said the official, Goss told Rodriguez and other CIA officers that "destroying tapes of any kind is just a bad idea in Washington."
A second email sent less than two hours later by the same top Agency official who authored the first email appears to confirm that account of Goss's anger. After a series of top-level meetings about the destruction, the senior CIA official who authored the email wrote that he was "no longer feeling comfortable" and suggested that Rodriguez or one of his aides had "lied" or "misstated the facts" when asserting that he had approval to destroy the tapes.
In that same email, a CIA official describes the reaction of John Rizzo, then the agency's top lawyer, to the destruction of the tapes. "Rizzo is clearly upset," the email states. "Rizzo does not think this will just go away."The email says then-White House counsel Harriet Miers was also "livid" when informed of their destruction.
A current U.S. official familiar with the emails cautioned that the emails reflected one officer's interpretation of events. "You've got the possibility that some folks thought that procedures hadn't exactly been followed," said the official, "but I'm unaware of anyone who thought at the time that laws had been broken."
The documents were released as part of an ongoing Freedom of Information Act request by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The Justice Department is currently investigating whether any CIA officials broke the law by destroying the tapes.
Robert S. Bennett, attorney for Jose Rodriguez, told ABC News that "nothing in the documents suggests Jose broke the law."
"Jose was protecting his operatives and the national security of the country and deserves a medal and praise rather than an investigation," added Bennett. "Before he made the decision, he got assurances that it was legal and that there were no legal impediments to do it."
CIA spokesman George Little said a Department of Justice prosecutor had been looking into the destruction of the tapes for more than two years. "The agency has cooperated fully with that inquiry and will, of course, continue to do so," said Little.
Porter Goss could not be reached for comment.