Follow the bouncing tapes

First it was a CIA decision. Then Harriet Miers knew. Now more lawyers were involved, and a source says the White House didn't say, "Hell, no."

By Tim Grieve

Published December 11, 2007 1:01PM (EST)

In the Bush administration's first attempt to explain the destruction of videotapes showing the interrogations of suspected al-Qaida members, CIA director Michael Hayden said the decision to destroy the tapes was made "within the CIA."

That version of the story quickly gave way when as-yet unidentified administration officials revealed that former White House counsel Harriet Miers knew about the tapes and had told the CIA that she didn't think they should be destroyed.

Now, as Hayden prepares for a closed-door session today with the Senate Intelligence Committee, there's a third version of the story to consider. An unidentified former intelligence official says that lawyers -- plural -- within the White House and the Justice Department advised the CIA not to destroy the tapes in 2003, but that the CIA continued to push for permission to do so, and the White House never quite got around to saying no.

"They never told us, 'Hell, no,'" the former intelligence official tells the New York Times. "If somebody had said, 'You cannot destroy them,' we would not have destroyed them."

The CIA declined to respond to questions from the Times, and the White House, citing ongoing investigations and the advice of counsel, won't say anything further about the matter at all. In an uncharacteristic bit of understatement Monday, White House press secretary Dana Perino said that she could "see where" the "cynicism that usually drifts" up from the White House press briefing room might "come up in this regard."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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