Wednesday, September 13, 2006

This Hole In The Ground

by Keith Olbermann, MSNBC

Half a lifetime ago, I worked in this now-empty space. And for 40 days after the attacks, I worked here again, trying to make sense of what happened, and was yet to happen, as a reporter.

All the time, I knew that the very air I breathed contained the remains of thousands of people, including four of my friends, two in the planes and -- as I discovered from those "missing posters" seared still into my soul -- two more in the Towers.

And I knew too, that this was the pyre for hundreds of New York policemen and firemen, of whom my family can claim half a dozen or more, as our ancestors.

I belabor this to emphasize that, for me this was, and is, and always shall be, personal.
And anyone who claims that I and others like me are "soft," or have "forgotten" the lessons of what happened here is at best a grasping, opportunistic, dilettante and at worst, an idiot whether he is a commentator, or a Vice President, or a President.

However, of all the things those of us who were here five years ago could have forecast -- of all the nightmares that unfolded before our eyes, and the others that unfolded only in our minds -- none of us could have predicted this.

Five years later this space is still empty.
Five years later there is no memorial to the dead.
Five years later there is no building rising to show with proud defiance that we would not have our America wrung from us, by cowards and criminals.

Five years later this country's wound is still open.
Five years later this country's mass grave is still unmarked.
Five years later this is still just a background for a photo-op.
It is beyond shameful.
At the dedication of the Gettysburg Memorial -- barely four months after the last soldier staggered from another Pennsylvania field -- Mr. Lincoln said, "we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract."

Lincoln used those words to immortalize their sacrifice.
Today our leaders could use those same words to rationalize their reprehensible inaction. "We cannot dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground." So we won't.

Instead they bicker and buck pass. They thwart private efforts, and jostle to claim credit for initiatives that go nowhere. They spend the money on irrelevant wars, and elaborate self-congratulations, and buying off columnists to write how good a job they're doing instead of doing any job at all.

Five years later, Mr. Bush, we are still fighting the terrorists on these streets. And look carefully, sir, on these 16 empty acres. The terrorists are clearly, still winning.

And, in a crime against every victim here and every patriotic sentiment you mouthed but did not enact, you have done nothing about it.

And there is something worse still than this vast gaping hole in this city, and in the fabric of our nation. There is its symbolism of the promise unfulfilled, the urgent oath, reduced to lazy execution.

The only positive on 9/11 and the days and weeks that so slowly and painfully followed it was the unanimous humanity, here, and throughout the country. The government, the President in particular, was given every possible measure of support.

Those who did not belong to his party -- tabled that.
Those who doubted the mechanics of his election -- ignored that.
Those who wondered of his qualifications -- forgot that.
History teaches us that nearly unanimous support of a government cannot be taken away from that government by its critics. It can only be squandered by those who use it not to heal a nation's wounds, but to take political advantage.

Terrorists did not come and steal our newly-regained sense of being American first, and political, fiftieth. Nor did the Democrats. Nor did the media. Nor did the people.

The President -- and those around him -- did that.
They promised bi-partisanship, and then showed that to them, "bi-partisanship" meant that their party would rule and the rest would have to follow, or be branded, with ever-escalating hysteria, as morally or intellectually confused, as appeasers, as those who, in the Vice President's words yesterday, "validate the strategy of the terrorists."

They promised protection, and then showed that to them "protection" meant going to war against a despot whose hand they had once shaken, a despot who we now learn from our own Senate Intelligence Committee, hated al-Qaida as much as we did.

The polite phrase for how so many of us were duped into supporting a war, on the false premise that it had 'something to do' with 9/11 is "lying by implication."

The impolite phrase is "impeachable offense."
Not once in now five years has this President ever offered to assume responsibility for the failures that led to this empty space, and to this, the current, curdled, version of our beloved country.

Still, there is a last snapping flame from a final candle of respect and fairness: even his most virulent critics have never suggested he alone bears the full brunt of the blame for 9/11.

Half the time, in fact, this President has been so gently treated, that he has seemed not even to be the man most responsible for anything in his own administration.

Yet what is happening this very night?
A mini-series, created, influenced -- possibly financed by -- the most radical and cold of domestic political Machiavellis, continues to be televised into our homes.

The documented truths of the last fifteen years are replaced by bald-faced lies; the talking points of the current regime parroted; the whole sorry story blurred, by spin, to make the party out of office seem vacillating and impotent, and the party in office, seem like the only option.

How dare you, Mr. President, after taking cynical advantage of the unanimity and love, and transmuting it into fraudulent war and needless death, after monstrously transforming it into fear and suspicion and turning that fear into the campaign slogan of three elections? How dare you -- or those around you -- ever "spin" 9/11?

Just as the terrorists have succeeded -- are still succeeding -- as long as there is no memorial and no construction here at Ground Zero.

So, too, have they succeeded, and are still succeeding as long as this government uses 9/11 as a wedge to pit Americans against Americans.

This is an odd point to cite a television program, especially one from March of 1960. But as Disney's continuing sell-out of the truth (and this country) suggests, even television programs can be powerful things.

And long ago, a series called "The Twilight Zone" broadcast a riveting episode entitled "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street."

In brief: a meteor sparks rumors of an invasion by extra-terrestrials disguised as humans. The electricity goes out. A neighbor pleads for calm. Suddenly his car -- and only his car -- starts. Someone suggests he must be the alien. Then another man's lights go on. As charges and suspicion and panic overtake the street, guns are inevitably produced. An "alien" is shot -- but he turns out to be just another neighbor, returning from going for help. The camera pulls back to a near-by hill, where two extra-terrestrials are seen manipulating a small device that can jam electricity. The veteran tells his novice that there's no need to actually attack, that you just turn off a few of the human machines and then, "they pick the most dangerous enemy they can find, and it's themselves."

And then, in perhaps his finest piece of writing, Rod Serling sums it up with words of remarkable prescience, given where we find ourselves tonight: "The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices, to be found only in the minds of men.

"For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy, and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all its own -- for the children, and the children yet unborn."

When those who dissent are told time and time again -- as we will be, if not tonight by the President, then tomorrow by his portable public chorus -- that he is preserving our freedom, but that if we use any of it, we are somehow un-American...When we are scolded, that if we merely question, we have "forgotten the lessons of 9/11"... look into this empty space behind me and the bi-partisanship upon which this administration also did not build, and tell me:

Who has left this hole in the ground?
We have not forgotten, Mr. President.
You have.
May this country forgive you.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Rove's Trap

The president's strategist is politicizing the Iraq war for partisan political gain. Will the Dems figure out how to fight back?
By Eleanor Clift

Updated: 11:11 a.m. PT June 16, 2006
June 16, 2006 - Our towel-snapping president is feeling better. He joked and jostled with the press for almost an hour, high on adrenalin after his secret trip to Baghdad. Thanks to skilled lawyering, his adviser Karl Rove is back in business framing the November election as a referendum on cut-and-run Democrats.

Rove is following a time-honored tactic: hang a lantern on your problem. Iraq is George Bush’s biggest problem, ergo Rove’s strategy: showcase the war, frame the choice between victory and defeatism, put the Democrats on the defensive. Moments after learning he had escaped indictment in the CIA leak investigation case, Rove told New Hampshire Republicans that Democratic critics of the war like John Kerry and John Murtha “give the green light to go to war, but when it gets tough, they fall back on that party’s old platform of cutting and running. They may be with you for the first few bullets, but they won’t be there for the last tough battles.”

It’s appalling that an administration led by chicken hawks dares to build an election strategy based on lecturing combat veterans, but it is devilishly clever, and it might work. The Swift Boat veterans destroyed Kerry in 2004; and in 2002, losing three limbs in Vietnam didn’t save Georgia Sen. Max Cleland from attacks on his patriotism. Rove told the GOP faithful that if the Democrats were in charge, Iraq would fall to the terrorists and Zarqawi would not be dead. As offensive as those words are, Rove is doing his job, which is sliming the Democrats so Republicans can cling to power on Capitol Hill. He is politicizing the war for partisan political gain, a strategy that could backfire if events on the ground in Iraq deteriorate.

“They’re risk-takers,” says Matt Bennett of Third Way, a Democratic centrist group. “Did they risk politicizing 9/11 by holding their convention in New York? Yes, and the risk paid off. It’s very Rovean; they’re trying to turn a weakness into a strength.” Another Democratic strategist noted the irony that after four years of no accountability on the mistakes made in prosecuting the Iraq war, the administration was hanging Democrats out to dry. This strategist called it “reverse accountability—shift the blame to those not in charge.”

Bush’s quick trip to Iraq was a symbolic handing over of power. In both message and visuals, he was saying to the new government, it’s your problem. He wrapped it in rhetoric about the U.S. commitment, but it’s clear that this is a last-chance government. If they can’t do it with American help, it’s over. Democrats fighting among themselves play into the GOP’s strategy, highlighting the opposition party’s inability to offer a credible alternative—or as Bush said in his Rose Garden press conference, “There’s an interesting debate in the Democratic Party about how quick to pull out of Iraq.” House Republicans staged a debate for the cameras on a meaningless resolution declaring the “United States will prevail in the Global War on Terror and the struggle to protect freedom from the terrorist adversary.” The idea is to corner the Democrats into taking a stand that could hurt them in November. A yes vote angers the Democratic base, which is increasingly antiwar; a no vote invites charges of cut and run.

Kerry is two years late in declaring he was wrong to vote for the war, and now he’s playing to the party’s antiwar base in the hope of resurrecting his presidential campaign. The GOP is gleefully framing Kerry’s amendment to bring the troops home by the end of this year as a choice between victory and a treasonous running away. None of the other big-name Democrats want to get behind Kerry’s plan because they’re also running for president, and they’ve got their own half-baked ideas. An honest reckoning on Iraq means choosing among bad and less-bad options, which don’t stir voter enthusiasm. There are no good options. People of good will can disagree about what to do next, but no one, except for the most blinkered Bush partisans, think Iraq is anything but a disaster.

There will be an antiwar candidate in ’08, probably Wisconsin Sen. Russell Feingold, and he’ll get a lot of support and cause real problems for the front runner, whoever it is. Feingold won’t be put on the ticket, but he could well throw the election to the Republicans if the Democrats don’t figure out how to deal with the antiwar sentiment in the party. Ignoring the antiwar left is the equivalent of a Republican disregarding the religious right in the primaries. Maybe we won’t have the Iraq war to kick around by ’08, but the more likely scenario is that Bush will leave enough troops there to keep it from dissolving into an uncontrolled civil war. Rove is setting the same trap for Democrats that worked so well in ’04 and ’02. There’s no surprise here; the only surprise will be if the Democrats figure out how to fight back.


Monday, April 10, 2006

GANGSTER GOVERNMENT - A Leaky President Runs Afoul of "Little Rico"

by Greg Palast
Sunday, April 9, 2006

It's a crime. No kidding. But the media has it all wrong. As usual.

'Scooter' Libby finally outed 'Mr. Big,' the perpetrator of the heinous disclosure of the name of secret agent Valerie Plame. It was the President of United States himself -- in conspiracy with his Vice-President. Now the pundits are arguing over whether our war-a-holic President had the legal right to leak this national security information. But, that's a fake debate meant to distract you.

OK, let's accept the White House alibi that releasing Plame's identity was no crime. But if that's true, they've committed a BIGGER crime: Bush and Cheney knowingly withheld vital information from a grand jury investigation, a multimillion dollar inquiry the perps themselves authorized. That's akin to calling in a false fire alarm or calling the cops for a burglary that never happened -- but far, far worse. Let's not forget that in the hunt for the perpetrator of this non-crime, reporter Judith Miller went to jail.

Think about that. While Miller sat in a prison cell, Bush and Cheney were laughing their sick heads off, knowing the grand jury testimony, the special prosecutor's subpoenas and the FBI's terrorizing newsrooms were nothing but fake props in Bush's elaborate charade, Cheney's Big Con.

On February 10, 2004, our not-so-dumb-as-he-sounds President stated, "Listen, I know of nobody -- I don't know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information. If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it, and we'll take the appropriate action. And this investigation is a good thing. ...And if people have got solid information, please come forward with it."

Notice Bush's cleverly crafted words. He says he can't name anyone who leaked this "classified" info -- knowing full well he'd de-classified it. Far from letting Bush off the hook, it worsens the crime. For years, I worked as a government investigator and, let me tell you, Bush and Cheney withholding material information from the grand jury is a felony. Several felonies, actually: abuse of legal process, fraud, racketeering and, that old standby, obstruction of justice.

If you or I had manipulated the legal system this way, we'd be breaking rocks on a chain gang. We wouldn't even get a trial -- most judges would consider this a "fraud upon the court" and send us to the slammer in minutes using the bench's power to administer instant punishment for contempt of the judicial system.

Why'd they do it? The White House junta did the deed for the most evil of motives: to hoodwink the public during the 2004 election campaign, to pretend that evil anti-Bush elements were undermining the Republic, when it was the Bush element itself at the center of the conspiracy. (Notably, elections trickery also motivated Richard Nixon's "plumbers" to break into the Watergate, then the Democratic Party campaign headquarters.)

Let me draft the indictment for you as I would have were I still a government gumshoe:

"Perpetrator Lewis Libby (alias, 'Scooter') contacted Miller; while John Doe 1 contacted perpetrators' shill at the Washington Post, Bob Woodward, in furtherance of a scheme directed by George Bush (alias 'The POTUS') and Dick Cheney (alias, 'The Veep') to release intelligence information fraudulently proffered as 'classified,' and thereinafter, knowingly withheld material evidence from a grand jury empanelled to investigate said disclosure. Furthermore, perpetrator 'The POTUS' made material statements designed to deceive investigators and knowingly misrepresent his state of knowledge of the facts."

Statements aimed at misleading grand jury investigators are hard-time offenses. It doesn't matter that Bush's too-clever little quip was made to the press and not under oath. I've cited press releases and comments in the New York Times in court as evidence of fraud. By not swearing to his disingenuous statement, Bush gets off the perjury hook, but he committed a crime nonetheless, "deliberate concealment."

Here's how the law works (and hopefully, it will). The Bush gang's use of the telephone in this con game constituted wire fraud. Furthermore, while presidents may leak ("declassify") intelligence information, they may not obstruct justice; that is, send a grand jury on a wild goose chase. Under the 'RICO' statute (named after the Edward G. Robinson movie mobster, 'Little Rico'), the combination of these crimes makes the Bush executive branch a "racketeering

So, book'm, Dan-o. Time to read The POTUS and The Veep their rights.

After setting their bail (following the impeachments and removals, of course), a judge will have a more intriguing matter to address. The RICO law requires the Feds to seize all "ill-gotten gains" of a racketeering enterprise, even before trial. Usually we're talking fast cars and diamond bling. But in this case, the conspirators' purloined booty includes a stolen election and a fraudulently obtained authorization for war. I see no reason why a judge could not impound the 82d Airborne as "fruits of the fraud " -- lock, stock and gun barrels -- and bring the boys home.

And if justice is to be done we will will also have to run yellow tape across the gates at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue -- "CRIME SCENE - DO NOT ENTER" -- and return the White House to its rightful owners, the American people, the victims of this gangster government.

Former racketeering investigator Greg Palast is author of "ARMED MADHOUSE: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Class War," to be released in June. Subscribe to the new podcast of our columns at

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Telling the "approved" story


On an unspecified day last week an employee of a federal agency that cannot be revealed delivered a document that cannot be identified to a company that cannot be named seeking information that cannot be discussed.

The aforementioned federal agent left the unidentified document with an employee of the unnamed company. That employee then called the owner, who must remain anonymous, to inform him that the document that could not be identified sought information that could not be discussed. The owner who must remain anonymous instructed the employee to deliver the unidentified document to a lawyer whose name is protected by attorney-client privilege.

The lawyer whose name is protected by attorney-client privilege examined the unidentified document and then reviewed the information that could not be discussed with the owner who must remain anonymous.

With the approval of the owner who must remain anonymous, the lawyer whose name is protected by attorney-client privilege contacted a U.S. attorney who demanded that his identity be concealed.

The U.S. attorney who demanded that his identity be concealed then claimed the owner who must remain anonymous violated a law that could not be disclosed and faced arrest for charges that could not be specified because he had referred to the document that cannot be identified in an article for a certain, but unnamed, web site.

The lawyer whose name is protected by attorney-client privilege argued that his client could not be charged under the undisclosed law because he had been acting as a journalist at the time of the alleged publication and not as the owner of the company that cannot be named. He had, in fact, learned of the existence of the document that cannot be identified from a third-party, who was not named, and was not aware of its exact contents because he had not seen or read the document and, therefore, was not aware of the exact contents that cannot be discussed.

The U.S. attorney who demanded his identity be concealed consulted with others who names are classified and concluded that the owner who must remain anonymous walked a fine line between legal and illegal and would not face arrest for violating a law that could not be disclosed on charges that could not be specified.

So walking this fine line of justice allowed the owner who must remain anonymous to avoid confinement at an institution at an unknown location for an unspecified length of time.
In exchange for his freedom, the owner who must remain anonymous agreed to write a "clarification" of what happened, following the guidelines for publication laid down by the Bush administration.

Which is what you just read.

© Copyright 2006 by Capitol Hill Blue

Sunday, February 12, 2006

State of Delusion

Friday, February 03 2006

So President Bush's plan to reduce imports of Middle East oil turns out to be no more substantial than his plan — floated two years ago, then flushed down the memory hole — to send humans to Mars.

But what did you expect? After five years in power, the Bush administration is still — perhaps more than ever — run by Mayberry Machiavellis, who don't take the business of governing seriously.

Here's the story on oil: In the State of the Union address Mr. Bush suggested that "cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol" and other technologies would allow us "to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East."

But the next day, officials explained that he didn't really mean what he said. "This was purely an example," said Samuel Bodman, the energy secretary. And the administration has actually been scaling back the very research that Mr. Bush hyped Tuesday night: the National Renewable Energy Laboratory is about to lay off staff because of budget cuts. "A veteran researcher," reports The New York Times, "said the staff had been told that the cuts would be concentrated among researchers in wind and biomass, which includes ethanol."

Why announce impressive sounding goals when you have no plan to achieve them? The best guess is that the energy "plan" was hastily thrown together to give Mr. Bush something positive to say.

For weeks administration sources told reporters that the State of the Union address would focus on health care. But at the last minute the White House might have realized that its health care proposals, based on the idea that Americans have too much insurance, would suffer the same political fate as its attempt to privatize Social Security. ("Congress," Mr. Bush said, "did not act last year on my proposal to save Social Security." Democrats responded with a standing ovation.)

So Mr. Bush's speechwriters were told to replace the health care proposals with fine words about energy independence, words not backed by any actual policy.

What about the rest of the speech? The State of the Union is normally an occasion for boasting about an administration's achievements. But what's a speechwriter to do when there are no achievements?

One answer is to pretend that the bad stuff never happened. The Medicare drug benefit is Mr. Bush's largest domestic initiative to date. It's also a disaster: at enormous cost, the administration has managed to make millions of elderly Americans worse off. So drugs went unmentioned in the State of the Union.

Another answer is to rely on evasive language. In Iraq, said Mr. Bush, we've "changed our approach to reconstruction."

In fact, reconstruction has failed. Almost three years after the war began, oil production is well below prewar levels, Baghdad is getting only an average of 3.2 hours of electricity a day, and more than 60 percent of water and sanitation projects have been canceled.

So now, having squandered billions in Iraqi oil revenue as well as U.S. taxpayer dollars, we've told the Iraqis that from now on it's their problem. America's would-be Marshall Plan in Iraq, reports The Los Angeles Times, "is drawing to a close this year with much of its promise unmet and no plans to extend its funding." I guess you can call that a change in approach.

There's a common theme underlying the botched reconstruction of Iraq, the botched response to Katrina (which Mr. Bush never mentioned), the botched drug program, and the nonexistent energy program. John DiIulio, the former White House head of faith-based policy, explained it more than three years ago. He told the reporter Ron Suskind how this administration operates: "There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus. ... I heard many, many staff discussions but not three meaningful, substantive policy discussions. There were no actual policy white papers on domestic issues."

In other words, this administration is all politics and no policy. It knows how to attain power, but has no idea how to govern. That's why the administration was caught unaware when Katrina hit, and why it was totally unprepared for the predictable problems with its drug plan. It's why Mr. Bush announced an energy plan with no substance behind it. And it's why the state of the union — the thing itself, not the speech — is so grim.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Bush's war on professionals

The president is determined to stop whistle-blowers and the press from halting his administration's illegal, ever-expanding secret government. But it may be too late.

By Sidney Blumenthal

Jan. 05, 2006 New ranges of secret government are emerging from the fog of war. The latest disclosure, by the New York Times, of domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency performed by evasion of the special Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court surfaces a vast hidden realm. But the NSA spying is not an isolated island of policy; it is connected to the mainland of Bush's expansive new national security apparatus.

At the beginning of the Cold War, the National Security Act of 1947 authorized the creation of new institutions of foreign policy and intelligence, including the National Security Council and the Central Intelligence Agency. But Bush has built a secret system, without enabling legislation, justified by executive fiat and presidential findings alone, deliberately operating beyond the oversight of Congress and the courts, and existing outside the law. It is a national security state of torture, ghost detainees, secret prisons, renditions and domestic eavesdropping.

The arguments used to rationalize this system insist that the president as commander in chief is entitled to arbitrary and unaccountable rule. The memos written by John Yoo, former deputy in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, constitute a basic ideology of absolute power.

Congress, at best, is held in contempt as a pest and, at worst, is regarded as an intruder on the president's rightful authority. The Republican chairmen of the House Armed Services and Senate Intelligence committees, Rep. Duncan Hunter of California and Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, have been models of complicity in fending off oversight, attacking other members of Congress, especially Republicans, who have had the temerity to insist on it, using their committees to help the White House suppress essential information about the operations of government, and issuing tilted partisan reports smearing critics. This is the sort of congressional involvement, at White House direction, that the White House believes fulfills the congressional mandate.

During his first term, President Bush issued an unprecedented 108 statements upon signing bills of legislation that expressed his own version of their content. He has countermanded the legislative history, which legally establishes the foundation of their meaning, by executive diktat. In particular, he has rejected parts of legislation that he considered stepped on his power in national security matters. In effect, Bush engages in presidential nullification of any law he sees fit. He then acts as if his gesture supersedes whatever Congress has done.

Political scientist Phillip Cooper, of Portland State University in Oregon, described this innovative grasp of power in a recent article in the Presidential Studies Quarterly. Bush, he wrote, "has very effectively expanded the scope and character of the signing statement not only to address specific provisions of legislation that the White House wishes to nullify, but also in an effort to significantly reposition and strengthen the powers of the presidency relative to the Congress." Moreover, these coups de main not only have overwhelmed the other institutions of government but have taken place almost without notice. "This tour de force has been carried out in such a systematic and careful fashion that few in Congress, the media, or the scholarly community are aware that anything has happened at all."

Not coincidentally, the legal author of this presidential strategy for accreting power was none other than the young Samuel Alito, in 1986 deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. Alito's view on unfettered executive power, many close observers believe, was decisive in Bush's nomination of him to the Supreme Court.

Last week, when Bush signed the military appropriations bill containing the amendment forbidding torture that he and Vice President Cheney had fought against, he added his own "signing statement" to it. It amounted to a waiver, authorized by him alone, that he could and would disobey this law whenever he chose. He wrote: "The executive branch shall construe Title X in Division A of the Act, relating to detainees, in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power, which will assist in achieving the shared objective of the Congress and the President, evidenced in Title X, of protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks." In short, the president, in the name of national security, claiming to protect the country from terrorism, under war powers granted to him by himself, would follow the law to the extent that he decided he would.

Sen. John McCain, the sponsor of the anti-torture legislation, according to sources close to him, says that he has not determined how or when he might respond to Bush's "signing statement." McCain wishes to raise other issues, like ghost detainees, and he may wait to see how the administration responds to the new law. However, with responsibility for oversight moved from the Armed Services Committee to the Senate Intelligence Committee, chaired by White House tool Pat Roberts, McCain and others have no reliable way of knowing whether the administration is complying. Once again, torture policy enters a shadow land.

Bush has responded to the latest exposures of the existence of his new national security apparatus as assaults on the government. It is these revelations, he said, that are "shameful." The passion he currently exhibits was something he was unable to muster for the exposure by members of his administration of the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame. But there is a consistency between his absence of fervor in discovering who was behind the outing of Plame and his furor over the reporting of warrantless NSA domestic spying. In the Plame case, the administration officials who spun her name to conservative columnist Robert Novak and others intended to punish and intimidate former ambassador Joseph Wilson for having revealed that a central element of the administration case for the Iraq war was bogus. In the NSA case, Bush is also attempting to crush whistle-blowers.

Bush's war on professionals has been fought in nearly every department and agency of the government, from intelligence to Interior, from the Justice Department to the Drug Enforcement Administration, in order to suppress contrary analysis on issues from weapons of mass destruction to global warming, from voting rights to the morning-after pill. Without whistle-blowers on the inside, there are no press reports on the outside. The story of Watergate, after all, is not of journalists operating in a vacuum, but is utterly dependent on sources internal to the Nixon administration. "Deep Throat," Mark Felt, the deputy FBI director, whatever his motives, was a quintessential whistle-blower.

Now Bush's Justice Department has launched a "leak" probe, complete with prosecutors and grand jury, to investigate the disclosure of the NSA story. It is similarly investigating the Washington Post's reportage of the administration's secret prison system for terrorist suspects. The intent is to send a signal to the reporters on this beat that they may be called before grand juries and forced to reveal their sources. (The disastrous failed legal strategy of the New York Times in defending Judy Miller as a Joan of Arc in the Plame case has crucially helped reinforce the precedent.) Within the bowels of government, potential whistle-blowers are being put on notice that they put their careers at risk for speaking to reporters in order to inform the public of what they consider wrongdoing.

"State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration," by James Risen, the New York Times reporter who broke the NSA story, offers further evidence of Bush's war on professionals in the intelligence community than has already been reported in newspapers.

Risen writes that the administration created a secret parallel chain of command to authorize the NSA surveillance program. While the professionals within the Justice Department were cut out, a "small, select group of like-minded conservative lawyers," such as John Yoo, were brought in to invent legal justifications. To the "small handful on national security law within the government" knowledgeable about the NSA program, the administration's debating points on the Patriot Act, which stipulates approval of eavesdropping by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, was a charade, a "mockery." Risen presents more witnesses and adds some episodes to familiar material -- the twisting of intelligence and intimidation of professionals both before and after the Iraq war; a national security team commanded by Vice President Cheney in league with Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld; and neoconservatives contriving "stovepipe" intelligence operations to funnel disinformation from Ahmad Chalabi and other Iraqi exiles who were their political favorites.

Risen quotes a former top CIA official on Condoleezza Rice: a "very, very weak national security advisor ... I think Rice didn't really manage anything, and will go down as probably the worst national security advisor in history. I think the real national security advisor was Cheney, and so Cheney and Rumsfeld could do what they wanted."

Then director of the CIA George Tenet appears as an incorrigible courtier, trying to ingratiate himself with anecdotes of derring-do from the clandestine services. Rumsfeld, seeking to concentrate intelligence within the Pentagon, which controls 80 percent of its budget, was not amused. When Tenet told his entertaining James Bond-type stories, Rumsfeld asked him why they were relevant, and in a meeting made a point of humiliating Tenet by upbraiding him for using the F-word in the presence of a female official. A former CIA official who worked closely with Tenet is quoted: "George Tenet liked to talk about how he was a tough Greek from Queens, but in reality, he was a pussy. He just wanted people to like him."

While Rumsfeld was trampling Tenet, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and Deputy Undersecretary Douglas Feith, the Laurel and Hardy of neoconservatism, set up the Counter-Terrorism Evaluation Group, "to sift through raw intelligence reports, searching for ties between Iraq and al Qaeda." CIA analysts were under unrelenting pressure to accept Chalabi's disinformation at face value. "They sent us that message a thousand times, in a thousand different ways," said one former senior CIA official. Tenet did nothing to halt the stream of pollution.

Risen reports that in April 2002, in a secret meeting in Rome, CIA case officers in Europe were told by the CIA's newly fortified Iraq Operations Group they had to get on the bandwagon for an Iraq war. "They said this was on Bush's agenda when he got elected, and that 9/11 only delayed it," one CIA officer who attended the conference is quoted as saying. "They implied that 9/11 was a distraction from Iraq."

Cheney not only intervened personally in attempting to force CIA analysts to rubber-stamp Chalabi's disinformation, Risen writes, but also directly interfered in CIA field operations. When the Netherlands declined to permit the CIA to attempt to recruit an Iraqi official there as an intelligence asset, Cheney called the prime minister of Netherlands to demand his approval, but was rebuffed.

Startlingly, Risen reports that on the eve of war, the CIA knew the U.S. had no proof of weapons of mass destruction, the casus belli, the justification for preemptive attack. The agency had recruited an Arab-American woman living in Cleveland, Dr. Sawsan Alhaddad, as a secret agent to travel to Baghdad to spy on her brother, Saad Tawfiq, an electrical engineer supposedly at the center of Saddam Hussein's nuclear weapons program. Once there, she won his trust and he confided there was no program. He urged her to carry the message back to the CIA. Upon her return, she was debriefed and the CIA filed the report in a black hole. It turned out that she was one of some 30 Iraqis who had been recruited to travel to Iraq to contact weapons experts there. Risen writes, "All of them … had said the same thing. They all reported to the CIA that the scientists had said that Iraq's programs to develop nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons had long since been abandoned."

Not willing to contradict the administration line, CIA officials withheld this information from the National Intelligence Estimate issued a month after Alhaddad's visit to Baghdad. The NIE stated conclusively that Iraq "is reconstituting its nuclear program." Risen writes: "From his home in Baghdad in February 2003, Saad Tawfiq watched Secretary of State Colin Powell's televised presentation to the United Nations about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. As Powell dramatically built the American case for war, Saad sank further and further into frustration and despair. They didn't listen. I told them there were no weapons."

When CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin raised questions about the fabled aluminum tubes that were supposedly a critical element of Saddam's nuclear program, Tenet waved McLaughlin's doubt aside. Skepticism was banished. When David Kay, chief of the Iraq Survey Group, discovered there were no WMD, he met with the ever-faithful Tenet, who told him: "I don't care what you say. You will never convince me they didn't have chemical weapons."

After the war, efforts within the CIA to dispel illusion and acknowledge reality in Iraq met with punishment. In November 2003, the CIA station chief in Baghdad submitted what is internally called an "aardwolf," a formal report on country conditions. "It pulled no punches in detailing how the new insurgency was gaining strength from the political and economic vacuum that the United States had allowed to develop in Baghdad," writes Risen. For his honesty, the station chief was subjected to "inflammatory accusations about his personal behavior, all of which he flatly denied," and "quit the CIA in disgust." The destruction of his career led other CIA officers to hedge their reports, especially on Chalabi. The new station chief, in an "aardwolf" in late 2004, described the lethal conditions on the ground, and as a reward "his political allegiances were quickly questioned by the White House." Reality remained unwelcome.

Risen's book is one of a small and growing library that contains the strangulated, usually anonymous cries of professionals. No doubt there will be other volumes to fill in more spaces and reveal yet new stories of the mangling of policy in the interest of ideology.

By counterattacking against whistle-blowers and the press, Bush is rushing to protect the edifice he has created. He acts as if the exposure of one part threatens the whole. His frantic defense suggests that very little of it can bear scrutiny.

Monday, December 26, 2005

What's For Dinner?