There's a bitter irony here. Earlier this year, Rizzo lost his bid to become the CIA's general counsel after he offered a euphemistic and equivocal definition of torture to the Senate intelligence committee. But by all accounts, Rizzo opposed the destruction of the interrogation videotapes, which very likely display torture. And the attorney Rodriguez relied upon, against protocol, went behind Rizzo's back:
In describing the decision to destroy the tapes, current and former officials said John A. Rizzo, the agencyâs top lawyer at the time, was not asked for final approval before the tapes were destroyed, although Mr. Rizzo had been involved in discussions for two years about the tapes.
It is unclear what weight an opinion from a lawyer within the clandestine service would have if it were not formally approved by Mr. Rizzo. But the former official said Mr. Rodriguez and others in the clandestine branch believed the legal judgment gave them the blessing to destroy the tapes.
The former official said the leaders of the clandestine service believed they âdidnât need to ask Rizzoâs permission.â
Double irony: in circumventing Rizzo, Rodriguez might not have obtained the valid legal cover he sought.
âAlthough unlikely, it is conceivable that once a C.I.A. officer got the answer he wanted from a D.O. lawyer, he acted on that advice,â said John Radsan, who worked as a C.I.A. lawyer between 2002 and 2004 and is now a professor at William Mitchell College of Law in Minnesota. âBut a streamlined process like that would have been risky for both the officer and the D.O. lawyer.â
When intelligence-policy scolds berate the agency for being risk-averse, this isn't exactly what they have in mind.