CIA Targets Whistle-Blower to Protect ZIONIST Drug Trade; CIA Admits FBI is Partner in Crimes-Corruption Reigns Supreme As Honest Prosecutors Fired (US Becomes Same As Ukraine With Burisma-Biden Corruption)
How a C.I.A. Coverup Targeted a Whistle-blower
When a Justice Department lawyer exposed the agency’s secret role in drug cases, leadership in the intelligence community retaliated.
By Ronan FarrowOctober 30, 2020
Mark McConnell, a prosecutor, said he had discovered a “criminal conspiracy.”Illustration by Eiko Ojala
Before dawn on January 23, 2019, Mark McConnell arrived at the Key West headquarters of the military and civilian task force that monitors drugs headed to the United States from the Southern Hemisphere. McConnell, a prosecutor at the Department of Justice and a former marine, left his phone in a box designed to block electronic transmissions, and passed through a metal detector and a key-card-protected air lock to enter the building. On the second floor, he punched in the code for his office door, then locked it behind him. On a computer approved for the handling of classified information, he loaded a series of screenshots he had taken, showing entries in a database called Helios, which federal law enforcement uses to track drug smugglers. McConnell e-mailed the images to a classified government hotline for whistle-blowers. Then he printed backup copies and, following government procedures for handling classified information, sealed them in an envelope that he placed in another envelope, marked “secret.” He hid the material behind a piece of furniture.
McConnell had uncovered what he described as a “criminal conspiracy” perpetrated by the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. Every year, entries in the Helios database lead to hundreds of drug busts, which lead to prosecutions in American courts. The entries are typically submitted to Helios by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the F.B.I., and a division of the Department of Homeland Security. But McConnell had learned that more than a hundred entries in the database that were labelled as originating from F.B.I. investigations were actually from a secret C.I.A. surveillance program. He realized that C.I.A. officers and F.B.I. agents, in violation of federal law and Department of Justice guidelines, had concealed the information’s origins from federal prosecutors, leaving judges and defense lawyers in the dark. Critics call such concealment “intelligence laundering.” In the nineteen-seventies, after C.I.A. agents were found to have performed experiments with LSD on unwitting Americans and investigated Vietnam War protesters, restrictions were imposed that bar the agency from being involved in domestic law-enforcement activities. Since the country’s founding, judges, jurors, and defendants have generally had the right to know how evidence used in a trial was gathered. “This was undisclosed information, from an agency working internationally with different rules and standards,” Nancy Gertner, a retired federal district judge and a senior lecturer at Harvard Law School, told me. “This should worry Trump voters who talk about a ‘deep state.’ This is the quintessential deep state. This is activities beyond your view, fundamentally affecting what happens in American courts.”
But the scheme benefitted the C.I.A. and the F.B.I.: the former received information obtained during operations, and the latter reported increased arrests and was able to secure additional federal funding as a result. The scope of the scheme was corroborated in hundreds of pages of e-mails, transcripts, and other documents obtained by The New Yorker.
For weeks, C.I.A. officials had been trying to stop McConnell from revealing the agency’s activities. They sent a lawyer to Key West with nondisclosure agreements, but McConnell refused to sign. A day before his early arrival at the office, McConnell had learned of an order to delete the screenshots on his computer. “I knew that I had to get the electronic evidence to outside investigators,” he told me. “There was no doubt about what I needed to do, and there was no doubt retaliation against me would follow.” He worked quickly, not knowing when security officers would arrive. Later that day, they came to McConnell’s office and deleted the images.
A little more than a month later, after C.I.A. officials accused McConnell of “spilling” classified information, the director of the task force suspended him. Soon, the C.I.A. director, Gina Haspel, visited the task force and was briefed on the matter. According to a sworn affidavit that McConnell filed with the Senate Intelligence Committee, and to a source with knowledge of the meeting, Haspel said that there needed to be repercussions for McConnell. (A C.I.A. spokesperson, Timothy Barrett, called the allegation “inaccurate and a gross mischaracterization.”) The military leadership of the task force ignored McConnell’s appeal of his suspension, and discussions about future assignments came to an abrupt halt. Six officials said that they believed the C.I.A. had retaliated against McConnell, leaving him nominally employed but unable to find a new post after decades of public service.
“This was appalling and blatant,” Tom Padden, one of McConnell’s supervisors, who has filed his own whistle-blower complaint, told me. “It was a blatant attempt to silence a career public servant who identified a real issue.” McConnell and other officials accused Patrick Hovakimian, the Associate Deputy Attorney General, of failing to protect McConnell. Hovakimian is President Trump’s nominee to become the general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and his handling of whistle-blower issues has been a central question in his confirmation process. (A Justice Department spokesperson said that Hovakimian enlisted a department lawyer and other officials “to ensure that any whistle-blower was treated appropriately.”)
Last month, the House Judiciary Committee chairman, Jerrold Nadler, notified Attorney General William Barr and Christopher Wray, the F.B.I. director, that the committee would be investigating McConnell’s allegations and requested records related to his case. Senator Ron Wyden, of Oregon, said that he would be calling on the Senate Intelligence Committee to investigate as well, and told me, “Senior officials should never punish employees who raise concerns about abuse, especially when it concerns secret programs or activities.” McConnell said, “The C.I.A. has corrupted F.B.I. agents to violate basic rules as to how the Department of Justice does criminal prosecutions.”
Mark McConnell, who is sixty-six, was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida. He was brought up by his grandparents, a paper-mill worker and a homemaker. When McConnell was seven, he took to wearing the garrison cap of his father, a former marine. McConnell was the first in his family to go beyond high school; he counted coins at the Federal Reserve Coin Vault to pay for junior college, which he attended at night. He earned a bachelor’s degree and a law degree from Florida State University before returning to Jacksonville to work as a public defender. Later, he spent six years on active duty in the U.S. Marines. After leaving active duty, in 1995, he worked as a state prosecutor and at the Department of Justice, where for sixteen years he has investigated fraud, corruption, national-security matters, and drug trafficking. McConnell has a salt-and-pepper mustache and speaks in a clipped Southern accent. “He’s of a high moral character,” a law-enforcement official who has worked with him told me. “Matter of fact, he’s so straight it sometimes annoys people.”
In July, 2017, McConnell was assigned to the Joint Interagency Task Force South, in Key West. It comprises people from various parts of the military, law-enforcement agencies including the D.E.A. and the F.B.I., and intelligence agencies including the C.I.A. and the N.S.A. McConnell kept his office sparse—the only sign of his military service was a photograph of the decorated marine Chesty Puller, with the quote “We’re surrounded. That simplifies things.”
Shortly after McConnell began working at the task force, a D.E.A. special agent named William Cambre stopped by his office. Cambre, a Louisiana native who had worked drug cases at the D.E.A. for more than fifteen years, told him that he had discovered troubling entries in the Helios database. They were labelled as having been submitted by the F.B.I., based on unclassified sources and methods, but they contained G.P.S. coördinates that were updated with unusual frequency. The entries were marked “secret/noforn,” a classification level that prevents disclosure to foreign nationals. Intelligence and law-enforcement officials later told me that the information came from a C.I.A. special-access program, one of the highest categories of classification in the government. The program, which one intelligence official described to me as “inherently extra-sensitive,” involved national-security surveillance. It also captured information that was unrelated to its mission but useful for finding drug traffickers. Cambre told McConnell that the F.B.I. had refused to answer questions about the source of the information, which he believed came from “the Christians”—slang for the C.I.A. “This is what they’re writing in Helios,” Cambre told him. “It’s a lie.” (An F.B.I. spokesperson said that the Bureau reviewed the arrangement with the C.I.A. and considered it “consistent with our internal protocols and legal requirements.”)VIDEO FROM THE NEW YORKERWhat Do Foreign Correspondents Think of the U.S.?
Searching Helios, McConnell ultimately found more than a hundred entries that bore the deceptive labelling Cambre had described. An F.B.I. agent estimated that fifty-seven prosecutions had relied on these entries. I was able to identify nineteen resulting criminal convictions. In all of the cases, U.S. Coast Guard cutters, relying on information from Helios, had intercepted small vessels on the open waters of the Pacific. They confiscated bales of cocaine, and arrested men from Ecuador, Colombia, and Mexico, who were taken to the U.S. to face trial. All nineteen pleaded guilty to federal drug charges and are now serving sentences ranging from six to fourteen years. The men, who worked at the lowest level of the drug trade, were poor and uneducated. Antonio Jorge Narvaez Tubay, a fisherman and a construction worker from Guayaquil, Ecuador, was apprehended south of Mexico in February, 2018. A sixty-year-old with four children, he had been struggling to care for his infirm father. “I was so desperate, and I was so poor,” he told the judge in his case.
It was not disclosed in the court proceedings that classified C.I.A. information had led the Coast Guard to the locations of the smugglers. In most of the cases, including Narvaez’s, F.B.I. agents submitted affidavits attributing the arrests to routine patrols. McConnell and other officials said that the affidavits were intentionally misleading, denying prosecutors the information they needed to properly meet discovery obligations, and undermining the resulting convictions. “If I had learned that a law-enforcement agent had not been forthcoming about reliance on classified information in a case that was prosecuted, I would have had a conniption,” David Laufman, a former prosecutor and a senior Department of Justice official, said.
“We always wondered how the fuck they figured out where these fishermen were,” Ricardo Hermida, who represented Narvaez, told me. “It’s a discovery violation. We were operating under misconceptions.” (The Justice Department spokesperson said, “The government believed at the time, and continues to believe after its careful review, that the information underlying this claim was simply not discoverable.”)
Under current law, federal prosecutors can disclose the presence of classified C.I.A. information to judges and request that it be shielded during trials for national-security reasons. Michael V. Hayden, who directed the C.I.A. under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, cautioned that law enforcement is not allowed to fabricate information, but he insisted that some programs are too sensitive for even limited court consultations, and defended the use of concealed intelligence in domestic trials. “We do that routinely,” he told me. “We know something, but we can’t say it, so we have to say it through someone else. Then we use it in court. It’s not illegal, but it’s complicated.” Other experts questioned that view. Mary McCord, a law professor and a former acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security, said that, when a court refuses to protect sensitive intelligence, “we have to say we’ll just dismiss the case. That’s the way it’s supposed to work. And government officials aren’t supposed to say, ‘We don’t want to deal with that, so we’re just going to lie.’ ”
In August, 2017, McConnell called his supervisor Tom Padden, who was in Washington, D.C. “When I get really pissed,” McConnell told me, “I get monotone, I don’t blink.” He related to Padden what he had found in the Helios database. Padden, sixty and heavyset, with a neatly cropped white beard, served in the Marines for twelve years before becoming a civilian prosecutor. He met McConnell when they were both stationed in Quantico, Virginia, and recruited him for the task force. Padden shared McConnell’s respect for rules. “We are talking about the withholding and misrepresentation of information to prosecutors by agents who are supposedly part of the prosecutorial team. We’ve got discovery problems, ethical problems there,” Padden told me. “You gotta have at least a prosecutorial supervisor in the know.”
In the following months, other officials independently raised concerns about the concealed intelligence. In late February, 2018, Dick Getchell, a federal prosecutor in the Southern District of Florida, e-mailed McConnell, asking to talk about “cases where targeting information does not appear to be LE-sourced” (the abbreviation stands for “law enforcement”). The same day, Getchell e-mailed the F.B.I. about a case resulting from a deceptive database entry. “Please advise as to the nature and substance of the information which FBI Miami provided which resulted in this seizure,” he wrote. Rhonda Squizzero, an F.B.I. special agent, replied that the targeting information had been gathered in an F.B.I. operation called Black Pearl, made up of investigations called World’s End, Calypso, and Wicked Wench—all references to the “Pirates of the Caribbean” film series. She wrote that those investigations had generated “case debriefs and electronic evidence” that pointed to a Mexican crime organization called La Victoria. McConnell and several other sources said that the investigations were a cover and could not be the source of the information. In a subsequent e-mail, Getchell expressed skepticism about La Victoria as well, writing that it was a group that “our office has never heard of.” In fact, there is no evidence that any such organization exists. The F.B.I. spokesperson said that the Bureau takes “a host of precautions to protect both the intelligence we receive and the sources and methods used to gather it. This can include using code names.”
“Everyone in the building knew this was crap,” one law-enforcement official told me. “What they were doing was bullshitting.”
McConnell and Padden also raised their concerns with C.I.A. and F.B.I. officials, who defended the concealment. In February, 2018, they met for three hours with the agency’s senior operative on the task force. (The New Yorker is not publishing the C.I.A. operative’s name, for safety reasons.) The operative argued against disclosing the C.I.A.’s role, either in the database or to prosecutors, saying that the arrangement benefitted both the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. The F.B.I., the C.I.A. operative said, was “a good partner.”
That spring and summer, the C.I.A. operative grew increasingly hostile to McConnell. During a meeting in March, according to McConnell, the operative warned, “If people keep talking about our program, someone is going to need to go to prison.” A month later, a meeting devolved into a shouting match. “If that cocksucker Cambre wants to fuck me in the ass, the least he can do is use some lubricant,” several people familiar with the conversation recalled the operative saying, referring to the D.E.A. agent who had initially raised the matter. “He’s going all ballistic,” McConnell told me, of the operative. “He was just lit.”
In the fall of 2018, McConnell learned that the F.B.I. had secured funds for a sprawling new drug-trafficking investigation called Stranger Tides—another reference to “Pirates of the Caribbean”—based entirely on the concealed C.I.A. intelligence. That November, McConnell notified task-force leadership of his intention to expose the practice, and he created a classified PowerPoint presentation revealing the deceptive database entries. He and Padden showed it, in secure areas, to employees who had the clearance level listed on the database entries. Adam Cohen, another of McConnell’s supervisors, who has specialized in drugs and organized crime at the Department of Justice for twenty years, told McConnell and Padden that their concerns were well founded. (The D.O.J. denied my request to speak to Cohen.) According to McConnell, Getchell, the Florida federal prosecutor, told him after one meeting, “The scales have fallen from my eyes.” (Getchell said that he could not comment for this piece without permission from the Southern District of Florida, which declined to make him available and which called McConnell’s and Padden’s allegations “inaccurate, and / or misleading.”)
Other law-enforcement officials worried that the scheme was undercutting efforts to combat drug smuggling. The disguised C.I.A. information facilitated quick hits on low-level couriers; when these operations succeeded, the F.B.I. used them to apply for limited federal drug-interdiction funds. “These are resources that could be going to criminal investigations that could dismantle an organization, and instead they go to whack-a-mole,” a law-enforcement official said. The official expressed these views to the C.I.A. operative whom McConnell and Padden had met with; the operative responded by offering the law-enforcement official’s own agency a secret intelligence-sharing arrangement. The official did not accept the offer.
Word of the deceptive database entries soon reached Washington, D.C. During meetings in December, 2018, and January, 2019, officials from the F.B.I. and the Department of Justice expressed concern about the scheme. One of them was Associate Deputy Attorney General Andrew Goldsmith, who remarked that it might create “Giglio” issues, a reference to Giglio v. United States, a 1972 Supreme Court ruling that obligates prosecutors to disclose information that might call into question the credibility of law-enforcement officials used as witnesses. (The D.O.J. spokesperson told me that Goldsmith reviewed the matter and “made recommendations to federal law-enforcement officials and prosecutors, which resulted in a careful review of both past cases and current practice.”)
Rather than acknowledge the problem, the C.I.A. had stopped sending classified information to the F.B.I. On January 11, 2019, officials from the C.I.A., the F.B.I., the Department of Justice, and the task force met at the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia. One person who attended recalled that the C.I.A. officials, including the operative on the task force, were “out of their mind upset” about the disclosures and “pressing very hard for there to be some kind of consequences for Mark McConnell.”
In several meetings around that time, Patrick Hovakimian was one of the most senior officials representing the Justice Department. Colleagues described Hovakimian, who was then thirty-five, as politically savvy and adept at cultivating relationships within the intelligence community. Padden was at the meeting where Goldsmith raised concerns. He recalled, “Hovakimian looked like a referee at a tennis match watching the points sail by him.” Padden added, “He went silent.” In the January 11th meeting at the C.I.A., according to one attendee, when C.I.A. officials insisted on sanctioning McConnell, Hovakimian didn’t object. Instead, he emphasized that the D.O.J. should continue to work with the agency. “ ‘They’re an important partner,’ ” the person present at that meeting recalled Hovakimian saying. “I do think it was a turning point, and there was a circling of the wagons after the meeting.”
The C.I.A. operative soon e-mailed colleagues on the task force, directing them to sign nondisclosure agreements. He wrote, “Until we are able to protect this program, including the signing of NDAs by all individuals aware of this program, we cannot in good faith restart this critical data flow.” That day, a C.I.A. lawyer arrived at the task force to supervise the signing of the N.D.A.s. Several officials initially resisted signing. McConnell never signed.
“Everyone just wanted to sweep this under the rug,” one official recalled. The next day, a colleague went to McConnell’s office and said, “I hear they’re trying to wipe the evidence out of Helios.” Rear Admiral Pat DeQuattro, the task force’s director, had issued an order to “clean up” the database, deleting the deceptive entries. He told colleagues that he was acting on an order from the C.I.A. Members of the task force warned that the deletions could be seen as destroying evidence. McConnell’s superior Adam Cohen phoned DeQuattro, and the order was called off.
A week later, Hovakimian’s office directed that McConnell’s PowerPoint presentation be treated as an improper “spillage” of classified information, as C.I.A. officials had urged. (A Justice Department spokesperson noted that the department does not control the task force.) Soon afterward, DeQuattro ordered security to delete McConnell’s presentation from his office computer. McConnell told me that he was thinking, Either I shut up and let this happen, or I make a disclosure. On January 23rd, he arrived early and filed his whistle-blower complaint. Later that day, he said, a security manager oversaw the deletion of the files, attributing the action to a “gentleman’s agreement” with the C.I.A. and warning that further inquiries could jeopardize McConnell’s security clearance.
At the end of the next month, two special agents with the Department of Justice inspector general’s office interviewed McConnell under oath for seven hours, at the task-force offices. While the meeting took place, the C.I.A. operative complained angrily to a colleague about the fact that the investigators were asking questions regarding C.I.A. activities. Soon, the task force’s chief of staff interrupted the interview. The questioning eventually resumed, but McConnell, in his complaint, accused the chief of staff of interfering with a protected disclosure. (Admiral Craig Faller, the commander of the U.S. Southern Command, which oversees the task force, said in a statement, “I am confident that the command fully cooperated with investigators at all levels.”)
Several days later, on March 4th, the chief of staff walked into McConnell’s office with a letter, signed by DeQuattro, suspending him from the task force. The letter attributed the decision to an “inquiry” from the C.I.A. about the “improper disclosure of classified information.” DeQuattro told colleagues the agency had compelled him to make a difficult decision. Several officials disputed the allegation against McConnell. “I think Mark McConnell found them doing something they shouldn’t have been doing,” one said. McConnell handed over his badge and gave the chief of staff a copy of a government document on the rights of whistle-blowers. Security walked him out through the busy office and watched as he left in his car. “Their goal is to humiliate you,” McConnell said. “Hovakimian should have been demanding to know why his prosecutor was walked out for properly giving evidence of wrongdoing. And he didn’t.”
Gina Haspel’s meeting later that month with members of the task force in Key West came amid a decade-long crackdown on government whistle-blowers. In eight years, the Obama Administration charged, under the 1917 Espionage Act, more officials with disclosing classified information than all previous Administrations combined. In four years, the Trump Administration has matched that count. In 2018, Trump tweeted that “leakers are traitors and cowards, and we will find out who they are!” His ire has extended not just to officials who leak to the press but also to those, like McConnell, who file complaints with government investigators. Last December, the President shared on Twitter the rumored name of the intelligence official whose allegation that Trump solicited political favors from Ukraine’s President eventually led to impeachment. Early this year, after Trump was acquitted, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a key witness in the impeachment proceedings, was removed from his position on the National Security Council, and Michael Atkinson, the inspector general to the intelligence community, who had deemed the whistle-blower’s complaint credible, was fired. This summer, Senate Republicans stripped whistle-blower protections from annual defense legislation.
Haspel, a thirty-five-year veteran of the C.I.A., has been a rare survivor in the Trump Administration. Officials credit this to her cordial relationship with Trump and her care in avoiding direct disagreements with him. Trump has praised Haspel for what has been the greatest controversy of her career, her role in running a C.I.A. black site, where she oversaw brutal interrogations that critics have called torture. During the Ukraine whistle-blower saga, when former officials asked that she publicly support the individual behind the complaint, Haspel was characteristically quiet.
In Key West, Haspel made it clear that McConnell should face consequences for his disclosures. McConnell learned this from task-force staff shortly after her visit. In his affidavit to the Senate Intelligence Committee, he wrote, “I understood this to mean that the Director of the CIA had personally ordered unlawful retaliation against me for my whistleblowing activities.” (Barrett, the C.I.A. spokesperson, told me, “No one is more protective of lawful whistle-blowers than Gina Haspel.”)
Comments: Looks like President O’bama took his orders from the CIA to target and destroy Whistleblowers.
After McConnell’s departure, he appealed to Admiral Faller, of the Southern Command, to restore his access privileges. Faller told Padden that he would “do the right thing.” But McConnell never received a response. During a subsequent phone call with Padden, Faller attributed the silence to pressure from the C.I.A. “He was having contact from—‘leadership’ was the only term he used—at that agency, expressing concerns that Mark’s appeal couldn’t be approved,” Padden recalled. He added that Faller suggested that the agency had threatened to stop collaborating with the Southern Command if the appeal was granted. (In his statement, Faller said, “At no point was I, or members of the southcom staff, pressured by any outside agency to make any decisions related to this matter.”) Dan Meyer, an attorney and a former executive director of the intelligence-community whistle-blowing program, said, “An agency, by going after the source of a complaint, is sending a chilling message all the way through the chain of command.”
Padden and Cohen initially sought to reassign McConnell within the Southern Command. In anticipation, McConnell moved to a Marriott hotel near the command’s headquarters, in Doral, Florida. But the reassignment “never happened, because the agency was pushing back,” Padden said. A similar task force based in Hawaii initially appeared interested in creating a role for McConnell, but, after DeQuattro, the task-force director, called it, talks about an assignment there stopped. McConnell was nominally employed by the Department of Justice, and other law-enforcement agencies periodically turned to him for help and advice. But he was not given a full-time position. “They are absolutely persecuting him,” Padden said.
Others connected to the disclosures also experienced varying degrees of hostility from the intelligence community. Months after McConnell’s removal, Hovakimian and several colleagues at the Justice Department met with F.B.I. and C.I.A. officials, including the agency’s operative on the task force. The C.I.A. officials expressed outrage that Cohen had failed to compel McConnell to sign the N.D.A., and that he had tried to facilitate subsequent assignments. One of the C.I.A. officials said of Cohen, “He has no integrity,” and “We don’t believe anything he says.” One person who was present told me, “In their mind, the right thing was to crucify McConnell and anyone who tried to protect him.”
During the meeting, an agency official asked the Justice Department for a letter immunizing C.I.A. personnel from prosecution related to McConnell’s disclosures. The department denied the request.
That November, the Pentagon inspector general issued a brief letter replying to McConnell’s complaint, stating that he was suspended “at the request of another government agency.” It continued, “We have determined that insufficient evidence exists to warrant investigation” of his allegations. After a year and a half, inspectors for the Department of Justice and the intelligence community have given no response. “The C.I.A. is so goddam powerful,” McConnell’s attorney, Mark Zaid, told me. “People are scared to do the right thing.” Zaid, who also represented the official behind the Ukraine complaint, founded a pro-bono law firm called Whistleblower Aid with the former State Department whistle-blower John Tye. Their focus is unusual and often fraught. Earlier this year, Zaid’s malpractice insurer dropped him, citing his high-profile work.
None of the people implicated in McConnell’s and Padden’s complaints are known to have faced sanction. F.B.I. agents who are accused of making false statements have continued to testify in cases, and some have received promotions. DeQuattro now serves in a senior role at the Coast Guard headquarters, in Washington, D.C.
Zaid called for an investigation into Haspel’s treatment of McConnell. “Her role absolutely requires greater transparency and clarification as to what she knew and when,” he told me. “It raises serious concerns as to her leadership and willingness to protect whistle-blowers.” Tye said, “It’s a terrible example she’s setting. She’s used to being able to hide everything, and I doubt she expected that her role in this would ever come to light.”
During Hovakimian’s confirmation hearing for the position of general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Senator Kamala Harris asked him about the Ukraine whistle-blower, the most controversial such case of the Trump Administration. She repeatedly questioned whether Hovakimian was involved in the decision to delay the transmission of the whistle-blower’s complaint to Congress. “I’m not exactly sure which decision you’re referring to, because I don’t know who made it, if it was even made,” Hovakimian said. He eventually said that the decision was made by the White House’s Office of Legal Counsel, and promised to do everything he could “to insure that whistle-blowers are afforded all the statutory rights to which they’re entitled.” Officials who work with him said that, in McConnell’s case, he made a more pragmatic calculation. “Could Hovakimian have taken a stronger stance? Sure he could have,” a close colleague said. “But he made a judgment call that the relationship with the C.I.A., and our ability to work with them, was more important than the little bit of leverage he could have gotten from Mark. I think he made a business decision.” (A D.O.J. spokesperson said, “Any accusation that Associate Deputy Attorney General Hovakimian’s approach was dictated by a political calculus is completely false.”)ADVERTISEMENT
This past February, the Southern District of Florida acquiesced to the C.I.A.’s request that, in cases that resulted from concealed intelligence, prosecutors would not undertake the “prudential searches” typically used to determine whether classified material must be disclosed in court. According to a person familiar with the conversation, Getchell, the prosecutor, objected but was overruled. The C.I.A. then resumed inserting its classified intelligence into the Helios database, labelling it as F.B.I. information. Hovakimian forwarded to colleagues a celebratory e-mail exchange about the resumption of the practice. McConnell and Padden both called the outcome “a whitewash.”
Padden has continued to work at the Department of Justice, where he says that his relations with intelligence officials have become strained. He worries that he might be pressed into early retirement. He and his wife bought a house in Tennessee and have begun moving their belongings there. He said that, after the publication of this article, “I may face blowback, which would render me ineffective in my job.”
McConnell and his wife have moved several times to be near possible assignments, but they’ve never panned out. This January, an official in the Department of Justice inspector general’s office approached McConnell’s attorneys with a message from the C.I.A.: if McConnell apologized and stopped pursuing the matter, the agency would drop its complaint about him. Later that month, after McConnell filed for permission to speak to The New Yorker, the agency made it clear that, if he talked to the press, the deal would be off. Legal experts said that the offer, which McConnell declined, may have broken the law. “That looks to me like an attempt to use a settlement to bypass the regulations,” Meyer, the former head of the intelligence-community whistle-blower program, told me. “That is really bad business. That gets you terminated from your job in the federal government.”
McConnell often wakes up in the middle of the night, reliving his removal from the task force. Taking the C.I.A.’s deal might have allowed him to revive his career in public service. “I knew that caving in to bribes or threats would make me unhappy with myself for the rest of my life,” he said. “Why would I ever acquiesce to that?” ♦
Noor Ibrahim conducted additional research for this piece.Published in the print edition of the November 9, 2020, issue, with the headline “The Coverup.”
Ronan Farrow is a contributing writer to The New Yorker and the author of “Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators.” His reporting for The New Yorker won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for public service.