Profile: Bush administration (43)
a.k.a. George W. Bush administration
July 7, 2003
“There is other reporting to suggest that Iraq tried to obtain uranium from Africa. However, the information is not detailed or specific enough for us to be certain that attempts were in fact made.”
[New York Times, 7/8/2003]
Bush administration (43) was a participant or observer in the following events:
Page 9 of 15 (1484 events)previous
Joseph Cirincione. [Source: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace]The nonpartisan Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP) releases a comprehensive study called WMD in Iraq: Evidence and Implications, written by Joseph Cirincione, the director of CEIP’s Nonproliferation Project; Jessica Tuchman Mathews, president of CEIP; and George Perkovich, vice president for global security and economic development studies at CEIP. The study takes a critical look at the arguments used by the Bush administration to support the claim Iraq had WMDs. Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean writes: “All of their key assertions are examined in detail and found to be wanting. Established evidence is lined up in charts beside the assertions of Bush-Cheney, making the administration’s dishonesty obvious.” The study finds that the administration “systematically misrepresented the threat from Iraq’s WMD and ballistic missile program”; conflated bits of evidence of pre-1991 weapons programs into arguments that Iraq had viable and growing WMD programs; distorted intelligence findings by “routinely dropping caveats, probabilities, and expressions of uncertainty”; and “misrepresent[ed UN] inspectors’ findings in ways that turned threats from minor to dire.” Despite the study’s precision, it is all but ignored by the mainstream media. [Dean, 2004, pp. 139-140; Cirincione et al., 8/2004]
The Federal Election Commission (FEC) dismisses the complaint “Citizens United v. Michael Moore and Fahrenheit 9/11.” The conservative lobbying group Citizens United (CU—see (May 11, 2004)) had complained to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) that liberal documentarian Michael Moore released a movie, Fahrenheit 9/11 (see June 25, 2004), that was so critical of the Bush administration that it should be considered political advertising. If the movie is indeed political advertising, under federal law it cannot be shown within 30 days before a primary election or 60 days before a general election. The FEC dismisses the complaint, finding no evidence that the movie’s advertisements had broken the law. The movie’s distributors, Lions Gate, assure the FEC that they do not intend to advertise the movie during the time periods given under the law. [Federal Election Commission, 8/6/2004; Moneyocracy, 2/2012] In the aftermath of the FEC decision, CU leaders Floyd Brown (see September 21 - October 4, 1988) and David Bossie will decide that they can do what Moore did, and decide to make their own “documentaries.” Bossie realized after Fahrenheit 9/11 aired that it, and the television commercials promoting it, served two purposes—attacking President Bush and generating profits. Having already conducted an examination of the career of former First Lady Hillary Clinton (D-NY), now a sitting senator with presidential aspirations, the organization will decide to make its first “feature film” about her (see January 10-16, 2008). [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
US District Court Judge Thomas Hogan, presiding over the grand jury investigation of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see December 30, 2003), rejects arguments that the First Amendment protects reporters from either Time or NBC News from testifying in the investigation. Hogan cites the 1972 Supreme Court case, Branzberg v. Hayes, in his ruling. In Branzberg, the Court ruled that “we cannot accept the argument that the public interest in possible future news about crime… must take precedence over the public interest in pursuing and prosecuting those crimes.” Hogan finds Time reporter Matthew Cooper (see May 21, 2004) in contempt of court. He also finds Time itself in contempt, and fines the magazine $1,000 a day until Cooper complies with a subpoena for his testimony. The ruling was written on July 20, but only issued today. “The information requested,” Hogan explains in his decision, “is very limited, all available means of obtaining the information have been exhausted, the testimony sought is necessary for completion of the investigation, and the testimony sought is expected to constitute direct evidence of innocence or guilt.” Cooper’s employer, Time magazine, will appeal Hogan’s ruling, but many believe the appeals court will not overturn it. “I think we’re going to have a head-on confrontation here,” says Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “I think Matt Cooper is going to jail.” Cooper’s lawyer Floyd Abrams says: “[Cooper’s] story was essentially critical of the administration for leaking information designed to focus the public away from what Ambassador [Joseph] Wilson [Plame Wilson’s husband] was saying was true and toward personal things. That sort of story, about potential government misuse of power, is precisely the sort of thing that is impossible to do without the benefit of confidential sources.” [New York Times, 8/10/2004; Washington Post, 8/10/2004; Washington Post, 7/3/2007] NBC reporter Tim Russert, also subpoenaed, did not contest the subpoena; the press learns today that he has already testified before the grand jury (see August 7, 2004 and August 9, 2004). Observers believe that prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is preparing to use Hogan’s ruling to compel the testimony of two other reporters, Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003) and Walter Pincus (see August 9, 2004). One defense lawyer involved in the case says Hogan’s ruling gives Fitzgerald significant leverage to compel testimony from Novak and Pincus. “This is now open season on these reporters,” he says. The court’s ruling establishes unequivocally that “in a grand jury context, reporters don’t have a privilege.” NBC News president Neal Shapiro says, “Compelling reporters to reveal their newsgathering to government investigators is, in our view, contrary to the First Amendment’s guarantee of a free press.” Dalglish says Fitzgerald should be focusing on prying information from Bush administration officials rather than reporters. Referring to administration officials, Dalglish says, “You just can’t tell me none of the people appearing before the grand jury knows who the leaker was.” [Washington Post, 8/10/2004]
Entity Tags: Neal Shapiro, Joseph C. Wilson, Floyd Abrams, Bush administration (43), Lucy Dalglish, NBC News, Time magazine, Matthew Cooper, Walter Pincus, Tim Russert, Robert Novak, Valerie Plame Wilson, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Thomas Hogan
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus is subpoenaed by the grand jury investigating the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see December 30, 2003). Pincus has written that a Post reporter received information about Plame Wilson from a Bush administration official. The Post says it intends to fight the subpoena (see August 20, 2004). [New York Times, 8/10/2004; Washington Post, 8/10/2004] Pincus later reflects that he had dodged attempts by the FBI to interview him about Plame Wilson, and believed that the Bush official who had informed him of her identity had not broken any laws. “I thought it was damage control,” he will later say. “My source had been trying to get me to stop writing about Joe Wilson [Plame Wilson’s husband]. I believed that the Democrats were too wound up thinking that a crime had been committed.” [Vanity Fair, 4/2006]
Four leading environmental groups—the NRDC, the Sierra Club, Earthjustice, and the National Wildlife Federation—conduct a joint expert study. The report, largely based on Army Corps of Engineers documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, shows that the Bush administration’s policies have allowed developers to drain thousands of acres of wetlands. The loss of wetlands on the Gulf Coast could have a catastophic effect since coastal wetlands weaken hurricanes before they make landfall thereby lessening the impact of such storms on populated inland regions. The report also says the policies have opened America’s waterways to massive amounts of industrial discharge. [Natural Resource Defense Council et al., 8/12/2004 ]
“There’s no way to describe how mindless a policy that is when it comes to wetlands protection,” one of the report’s authors says. The study is dismissed by the chairman of the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality, who describes it as “highly questionable,” and claims, “Everybody loves what we’re doing.”
[Washington Post, 8/12/2004; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 9/1/2005; Chicago Tribune, 9/1/2005]
The grand jury investigating the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA identity (see December 30, 2003) subpoenas New York Times reporter Judith Miller to testify. The Times says it will fight the subpoena. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 8/12/2004 ; Washington Post, 7/3/2007]
Unusual Negotiations between Lawyers - The subpoena will open a lengthy and sometimes puzzling set of negotiations between lawyers for Miller and her source, White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Miller refuses to divulge the identity of her source or the contents of their conversations (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). But she sends her lawyer, Floyd Abrams, to talk to Libby’s lawyer, Joseph Tate, to see if Libby will approve of her testimony. According to Abrams and others involved in the negotiations, Tate initially tells Abrams that Miller is free to testify. However, Abrams will say, Tate says that Libby never told Miller the name or the undercover status of Plame Wilson. This raises a conflict for Miller: her notes clearly indicate that she was told three times about Plame Wilson’s identity. If she testifies, she will contradict Libby’s own accounts of their conversations.
Libby Attempting to Influence Miller? - Miller decides that Libby is sending her a signal not to testify. She will later recalls Abrams’s recounting of his conversation with Tate: “He was pressing about what you would say. When I wouldn’t give him an assurance that you would exonerate Libby, if you were to cooperate, he then immediately gave me this, ‘Don’t go there, or, we don’t want you there.’” Abrams himself will recall: “On more than one occasion, Mr. Tate asked me for a recitation of what Ms. Miller would say. I did not provide one.” (Tate will angrily dispute both Abrams’s and Miller’s recollections, saying: “I never once suggested that she should not testify. It was just the opposite. I told Mr. Abrams that the waiver was voluntary.… ‘Don’t go there’ or ‘We don’t want you there’ is not something I said, would say, or ever implied or suggested.”) Miller’s executive editor, Bill Keller, will later say that Miller believed Libby feared her testimony. “Judy believed Libby was afraid of her testimony,” he will recall. “She thought Libby had reason to be afraid of her testimony.” Because of these reasons, Miller will decide not to further pursue the idea of a waiver from Libby that would allow her to testify about their conversations. For over a year, the two sides do not speak to one another. “I interpreted the silence as, ‘Don’t testify,’” Miller will later say. Tate will counter that he never understood why Miller or Abrams wanted to discuss the matter further. [New York Times, 10/16/2005]
McClellan: Fighting to Protect Partisan Government Leakers - In 2008, one-time White House press secretary Scott McClellan will write of Miller and fellow journalist Matthew Cooper, also battling a subpoena (see August 9, 2004): “Of course, there was a curious twist to the defense used by Cooper and Miller. By refusing to divulge the names of their sources in the leak case, the two reporters were not protecting courageous whistle-blowers revealing government wrongdoing in the public interest. Rather, they were shielding government officials whom administration critics believed had used leaks as weapons of partisan warfare. It was hard for some in the public, and especially those critical of the administration, to see this as an act of journalism.… This episode… seemed to confirm for at least some administration critics that reporters were no longer heroic figures, but were now participating in the same partisan warfare they created.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 256]
Bashir Noorzai. [Source: DEA]Haji Bashir Noorzai, reputedly Afghanistan’s biggest drug kingpin with ties to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, was arrested by US forces then inexplicably released in late 2001 (see Late 2001). He lives in Pakistan with the protection of the ISI, but in June 2004, the Bush administration adds his name to a US government list of wanted drug figures. Concerned that he may eventually be arrested again, he agrees to hold secret talks with a FBI team to discuss a deal. According to author James Risen, “The message the Americans delivered to Noorzai was a simple one: you can keep on running, or you can come work with us. Cooperate, and tell us what you know about the Afghan drug business, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and their financiers.” Arrangements are made for Noorzai to meet the FBI team in a hotel in the United Arab Emirates to finalize a deal. But the FBI team never arrives. According to Risen, “American sources add that the local CIA station in the UAE was so preoccupied with the war in Iraq that it was unable to devote any attention to the Noorzai case.” Noorzai eventually tires of waiting and returns to Pakistan. One US official familiar with the case says, “We let one of the big drug kingpins go, someone who was a key financier for al-Qaeda, someone who could help us identify al-Qaeda’s key financiers in the Gulf. It was a real missed opportunity. If the American people knew what was going on, they would go nuts.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 152-162; Congressional Research Service, 1/25/2006]
Sometime during this month, former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer testifies a third time to FBI agents as part of the Justice Department’s invesigation into the Plame Wilson identity leak (see February 13, 2004 and June 10, 2004). (In his 2007 testimony in the Lewis Libby perjury trial, Fleischer will claim to have been interviewed three times: January 2004, February 2004, and September 2004. At that time, it will be unclear whether Fleischer is misremembering the dates of his interviews or if there is another reason why his dates do not jibe with the facts.) [Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2009]
The Bush administration orders the New Orleans Army Corps of Engineers district office not to begin any new studies, including one aimed at determining what New Orleans must do to protect itself from a Category 4 or 5 hurricane. The proposed 2005 fiscal-year budget originally included $300,000 for the study, but in the current version, this amount has been cut out. [Times-Picayune, 9/22/2004; Editor & Publisher, 8/31/2005; Knight Ridder, 9/1/2005]
Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) alleges that the White House has covered up possible Saudi Arabian government connections to 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar. In an interview to promote his new book entitled Intelligence Matters, he contends that evidence relating to these two hijackers, who lived in San Diego, “present[s] a compelling case that there was Saudi assistance” to the 9/11 plot. [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004; Copley News, 9/7/2004] In the words of author Philip Shenon, Graham is “convinced that a number of sympathetic Saudi officials, possibly within the sprawling Islamic Affairs Ministry, had known that al-Qaeda terrorists were entering the United States beginning in 2000 in preparation for some sort of attack,” and that “Saudi officials had directed spies operating in the United States to assist them.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 51] Graham also concludes that President Bush directed the FBI “to restrain and obfuscate” investigations into these ties, possibly to protect US-Saudi relations. The San Diego Union-Tribune notes, “Graham co-chaired the exhaustive Congressional inquiry into the Sept. 11 attacks and is privy to still-classified information about the probe.” Graham claims that Omar al-Bayoumi and Osama Basnan are Saudi intelligence agents. He also claims that the FBI deliberately blocked his inquiry’s attempts to interview Abdussattar Shaikh, the FBI informant who was a landlord to the above-mentioned hijackers (see November 18, 2002). The questions the inquiry wanted to ask Shaikh went unanswered because of FBI maneuvering. [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004; Copley News, 9/7/2004]
The DVD cover for ‘Celsius 41.11.’ [Source: Citizens United]The Federal Election Commission (FEC) refuses to allow the conservative lobbying and advocacy group Citizens United (CU) to advertise on television its upcoming film Celsius 41.11—The Temperature at Which the Brain Begins to Die, a documentary that the group intends as a refutation of the documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 (see June 25, 2004), a film by liberal documentarian Michael Moore that savaged the Bush administration’s handling of the 9/11 attacks. The FEC also refuses to allow CU to pay to run the film on television. The FEC bases its decision on the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (McCain-Feingold—see March 27, 2002), and its restrictions on nonprofit groups such as CU using unregulated contributions to pay for “electioneering communications” to be shown within 60 days of a federal general election. CU would broadcast the film in late September, less than 60 days before the November 2 elections. CU argued, unsuccessfully, that it is a member of the news media and therefore can use a legal exemption provided for news, commentary, and editorial content. In a 4-0 vote, the FEC rejects the argument, saying that CU intends to buy air time instead of being paid to provide content, and that its primary function is as an advocacy group and not a film production organization. FEC vice chair Ellen L. Weintraub, one of the commission’s three Democrats, says: “You don’t want a situation where people are airing campaign commercials and they are exempt from commission rules because they are considered a media event. The danger is that the exemption swallows the rules.” CU president David Bossie (see May 1998) says he is “clearly disappointed” with the ruling, and adds, “They [the FEC] want to limit free speech, and that’s what this issue is about for us.” The company marketing Fahrenheit 9/11 was not allowed to run advertisements promoting the film within 60 days of the elections, and a CU complaint against that film was dismissed after its distributors promised not to air such advertisements (see August 6, 2004). CU has helped fund the publication of a book by Bossie attacking Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA), and has released numerous documentaries attacking the Clinton administration and the United Nations. The current film contains some material attacking Kerry, though that material is not the primary focus of the film. Bossie says the group will attempt to show the film in theaters to paying audiences within a few weeks (see September 27-30, 2004). [New York Times, 9/9/2004; New York Times, 9/30/2004]
Entity Tags: Federal Election Commission, Bush administration (43), Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, Citizens United, Clinton administration, John Kerry, Michael Moore, David Bossie, United Nations, Ellen L. Weintraub
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Domestic Propaganda, 2004 Elections
Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus testifies before the grand jury investigating the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see December 30, 2003 and August 9, 2004). Pincus refuses to divulge confidential sources, and refuses to divulge the name of the White House official who told him of Plame Wilson’s identity as a CIA agent. He does, however, recount the substance of that conversation. [Associated Press, 9/17/2004; New York Times, 2006] In his deposition, Pincus says he agreed to be questioned by prosecutors only with his source’s approval. “I understand that my source has already spoken to the special prosecutor about our conversation on July 12, and that the special prosecutor has dropped his demand that I reveal my source,” Pincus says. “Even so, I will not testify about his or her identity.” [Washington Post, 9/16/2004; Associated Press, 9/17/2004] “The source has not discharged us from the confidentiality pledge,” says the Post’s executive editor, Leonard Downie Jr. [Washington Post, 9/16/2004] Pincus will later describe why he agreed to testify instead of go to jail to protect his sources. “I believed firmly that the sources controlled the privilege,” he will say. One of his sources had told Pincus, through lawyers, that since he had revealed his own identity, Pincus could testify but not name him publicly. Pincus will later say, “If their identity was known to [special prosecutor] Patrick Fitzgerald, what confidence was I breaking?” He agreed to testify if he could name his source in court, but protect the source’s identity publicly. Fellow reporter Lowell Bergman will later call it “a cute deal.” When Newsweek senior editor Jonathan Alter asks Bergman, “Can’t you make an argument that this was the pragmatic tactic to take?” Bergman will respond, “It is until you are the next reporter subpoenaed and you have no protection.” [Vanity Fair, 4/2006] Pincus’s source will later be revealed as former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003).
Pleasant Mann, a 16-year FEMA veteran, says in an interview with the Independent Weekly that changes made to the agency by the Bush administration have so severely harmed FEMA staff morale that people are leaving “in droves.” Part of the problem, he says, has to do with the people Bush selected to run the agency. “The biggest frustration here is that we at FEMA have responded to disasters like Oklahoma City and 9/11, and here are people who haven’t responded to a kitchen fire telling us how to deal with terrorism. You know, there were a lot of people who fell down on the job on 9/11, but it wasn’t us… . Since last year, so many people have left who had developed most of our basic programs. A lot of the institutional knowledge is gone. Everyone who was able to retire has left, and then a lot of people have moved to other agencies.” Mann also complains that FEMA’s “priority is no longer on prevention.” FEMA’s merger into the Department of Homeland Security has made mitigation “the orphaned stepchild,” he says. [Independent Weekly, 9/22/2004]
The New York Times reports on the recent issuance of a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq by the US intelligence community. It is the first NIE to be issued since before the invasion (see October 1, 2002). The report was leaked to the Times by unnamed government officials.
Civil War a Strong Possibility - The NIE’s findings are grim. Civil war is a strong possibility, the NIE finds. Even the best-case scenario is an Iraq whose political, economic, and national security stability is tenuous and fragile. One government official says of the report, “There’s a significant amount of pessimism.” This NIE was initiated by the National Intelligence Council under the aegis of then-CIA Director George Tenet, who has since resigned. Acting CIA Director John McLaughlin approved the final report. The NIE stands in contrast to recent pronouncements by White House officials, who have insisted that the situation in Iraq is improving daily.
Critics 'Pessimists and Hand-Wringers' - The day before the NIE was released, White House press secretary Scott McClellan called critics of the occupation “pessimists and hand-wringers” who are being “proven… wrong.” [New York Times, 9/16/2004]
White House Ignores NIE - The NIE was prepared in July 2004 and not circulated until August, indicating that the White House had little use for the document. “It was finished in July, and not circulated by the intelligence community until the end of August,” one senior administration official says. “That’s not exactly what you do with an urgent document.” [New York Times, 9/28/2004]
This NIE Closer to CIA's Own Assessments than Earlier Report - Senior CIA analyst Paul Pillar will later say that the agency’s own prewar assessments “foretold a long, difficult, and turbulent transition,” assessments more in line with the current NIE than with the 2002 estimate (see January 2003 and September 28, 2004). “It projected that a Marshall Plan-type effort would be required to restore the Iraqi economy, despite Iraq’s abundant oil resources. It forecast that in a deeply divided Iraqi society, with Sunnis resentful over the loss of their dominant position and Shi’ites seeking power commensurate with their majority status, there was a significant chance that the groups would engage in violent conflict unless an occupying power prevented it. And it anticipated that a foreign occupying force would itself be the target of resentment and attacks—including by guerrilla warfare—unless it established security and put Iraq on the road to prosperity in the few weeks or months after the fall of Saddam” Hussein. The NIE, and the White House’s blase response to it (see September 21-23, 2004), will deepen the tension and distrust between the White House and the CIA. [Roberts, 2008, pp. 153, 244]
Tom Engelhardt. [Source: Mother Jones]General David Petraeus, the commander of US military forces in Iraq, writes an op-ed for the Washington Post entitled “Battling for Iraq.” Petraeus praises the Iraqi security forces for standing up and taking much of the burden of securing the country from the US troops on the ground, writing: “Iraqi security elements are being rebuilt from the ground up. The institutions that oversee them are being reestablished from the top down. And Iraqi leaders are stepping forward, leading their country and their security forces courageously in the face of an enemy that has shown a willingness to do anything to disrupt the establishment of the new Iraq.” There has been significant “progress” made, he writes, and there is “reason for optimism.” He concludes: “With strong Iraqi leaders out front and with continued coalition—and now NATO—support, this trend will continue. It will not be easy, but few worthwhile things are.” [Washington Post, 9/26/2004] Perhaps coincidentally, the op-ed appears in time for the Bush re-election campaign to make much of it. Columnist Tom Engelhardt will note in 2008 that the op-ed is “just the sort of thing a president trying to outrun a bunch of Iraqi insurgents to the November 4 finish line might like to see in print in his hometown paper.” Perhaps just as coincidentally, Petraeus will soon be awarded his third star. [Asia Times, 4/29/2008]
The conservative lobbying and advocacy group Citizens United (CU) releases a documentary intended as a refutation of the popular documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11 (see June 25, 2004), a film by liberal documentarian Michael Moore that savaged the Bush administration’s handling of the 9/11 attacks. The CU film is entitled Celsius 41.11—The Temperature at Which the Brain Begins to Die. CU spent six weeks making the film, and is releasing it in small venues around the nation after the Federal Election Commission (FEC) denied the organization permission to broadcast it on television (see September 8, 2004). (In August, the FEC dismissed a complaint against Moore over Fahrenheit 9/11 filed by CU—see August 6, 2004.) The slogan for the movie is “The Truth Behind the Lies of Fahrenheit 9/11!” The movie was written and produced by Lionel Chetwynd, who has written and produced a number of Hollywood feature films and documentaries. Chetwynd, a vocal conservative, produced the September 2003 “docudrama” 9/11: Time of Crisis, which portrayed President Bush as a near-action hero during and after the 9/11 attacks, and took significant liberties with the actual events (see September 7, 2003). Of this film, Chetwynd says: “We could have gone wall to wall with red meat on this, but we purposely didn’t. The cheap shots may be entertaining in Moore’s film, but we wanted to make the intellectual case and go beyond lecturing to the converted.” New York Times reporter John Tierney describes the movie as overtly intellectual, sometimes appearing more as a PowerPoint presentation than a film made to appeal to a wider audience. It features a point-by-point defense of Bush’s actions during the 9/11 attacks, and features “politicians, journalists, and scholars discoursing on the legality of the Florida recount in 2000, the Clinton administration’s record on fighting terrorism, and the theory of American exceptionalism.” There are a few “red meat” moments, Tierney notes, including the juxtaposition of the Twin Towers burning as Moore says in a voiceover, “There is no terrorist threat.” It also includes a few slaps against Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA), mostly in the form of a country song where the singer Larry Gatlin sings, “John boy, please tell us which way the wind’s blowing,” a reference to the Bush campaign’s attempt to portray Kerry as a “flip-flopper” who goes back and forth in his views on various issues. The Georgetown premiere of the movie attracts some 300 viewers, almost all Republicans, according to Tierney. The audience, according to Tierney, views the film as more “thoughtful and accurate” than Moore’s film, and unlikely to make anywhere near the profits the earlier film garnered. Chetwynd says he resisted the temptation to launch an all-out assault on Kerry “the way that Moore did with Bush.” Filmgoer Jerome Corsi, who has written a bestselling book attacking Kerry’s Vietnam record, praises the film, as does Debra Burlingame, whose brother was the pilot of the airplane that was flown into the Pentagon on the morning of September 11, 2001 (see 8:51 a.m.-8:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). Burlingame, a founder of a group of 9/11 victim relatives that supports Bush, says: “Michael Moore actually used footage of the Pentagon in flames as a sight gag. It was really hard to sit there in the theater listening to people laugh at that scene knowing my brother was on that plane. I wish more people would see this film instead.” [New York Times, 9/30/2004] In October, the Washington Post’s Philip Kennicott will dismiss the film as “generat[ing] heat but no new light,” calling it “sad in a sad sort of way… dull, lazy, and inconsistent,” and suffused with an “unabashed idolatry of the Great Leader (in this case, George W. Bush)” in the same way that Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl made her documentaries (he wonders, “Has the conservative worldview really been reduced to a slavish worship of authority?”). Kennicott will ask if the film is an attempt to refute Moore’s documentary or an “overlong attack ad on John Kerry,” and concludes that the film is little more than a combination of “dreadful political advertisements and dreadful political talk shows.” [Washington Post, 10/22/2004] TV Guide’s Maitland McDonagh will call the film a “shrill, repetitive screed” obviously released just in time to influence the 2004 presidential election, and bearing “all the hallmarks of having been thrown together in a heated rush.” [TV Guide, 10/2004]
Entity Tags: Jerome Corsi, Debra Burlingame, Clinton administration, Citizens United, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Philip Kennicott, Lionel Chetwynd, Federal Election Commission, Larry Gatlin, Leni Riefenstahl, John Tierney (New York Times), Maitland McDonagh, John Kerry, Michael Moore
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Domestic Propaganda, 2004 Elections
CBS’s Ed Bradley. [Source: Associated Press]CBS News president Andrew Heyward refuses to air a scheduled segment of 60 Minutes II that probes the allegations of the Bush administration deliberately using forged documents to bolster its claim that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Niger (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003)). In a statement, the network says it would be “inappropriate to air the report so close to the presidential election.” The network also decides not to run the piece because it has admitted to using questionable documents in a recent segment showing that President Bush received preferential treatment in joining the Texas Air National Guard during the height of the Vietnam War, and shirked his Guard duties thereafter without consequence. CBS had a team of correspondents and consulting reporters working for six months on the segment, and landed the first-ever on-camera interview with Italian journalist Elisabetta Burba, the first reporter to see the forged documents that formed the basis of the uranium allegations. (The CBS reporters also interviewed Burba’s source, information peddler Rocco Martino, but chose not to air any of that footage, and do not disclose Martino’s identity in the piece. Neither does the segment explore why the FBI has so far been reluctant to interview Martino in its investigation of the fraudulent uranium allegations.) The segment is later described by Newsweek journalists Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball as a hard-hitting investigative piece that “ask[s] tough questions about how the White House came to embrace the fraudulent documents and why administration officials chose to include a 16-word reference to the questionable uranium purchase in President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union speech” (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), and by Salon reporter Mary Jacoby as “making a powerful case that in trying to build support for the Iraq war, the Bush administration either knowingly deceived the American people about Saddam Hussein’s nuclear capabilities or was grossly credulous.… The report contains little new information, but it is powerfully, coherently, and credibly reported.” One of the central aspects of the segment is anchor Ed Bradley’s interview with Dr. Jafar Dhia Jafar, the former chief of Iraq’s nuclear program. Jafar confirms to Bradley that Iraq had dismantled its nuclear program after the Gulf War in the face of United Nations inspections. “So what was going on?” Bradley asks. “Nothing was going on,” Jafar replies. He says the Bush administration was either “being fed with the wrong information” or “they were doing this deliberately.” Another powerful moment is a clip from a German interview with the former foreign minister of Niger, Allele Habibou, whose signature appears on one of the forged documents. The document was dated 2000, but Habibou had been out of the government for 11 years by that point. “I only found out about this when my grandchildren found this on the Internet. I was shocked,” he says. The story is twice as long as the usual 15-minute segments broadcast on the show. Bradley, who narrates the report, is reportedly furious at the decision not to broadcast the segment. Jacoby concludes, ”60 Minutes defied the White House to produce this report. But it could not survive the network’s cowardice—cowardice born of self-inflicted wounds.” [Newsweek, 9/23/2004; Salon, 9/29/2004] The story will finally run on 60 Minutes almost two years later (see April 23, 2006).
Entity Tags: Jafar Dhia Jafar, Ed Bradley, CBS News, Bush administration (43), Andrew Heyward, Alle Elhadj Habibou, Elisabetta Burba, George W. Bush, Michael Isikoff, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Rocco Martino, Saddam Hussein, Mark Hosenball, Mary Jacoby
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
James E. Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, tells the New York Times that the Bush administration has been putting pressure on scientists to produce studies that are in-line with official policy on issues like global warming. He says this practice has penetrated deep within the government bureaucracy. “Under the Clinton-Gore administration, you did have occasions when Al Gore knew the answer he wanted, and he got annoyed if you presented something that wasn’t consistent with that,” he says. “I got a little fed up with him, but it was not institutionalized the way it is now.” The Times reports that Hansen, along with two other NASA scientists and several officials at NASA headquarters and at two agency research centers have “described how news releases on new global warming studies had been revised by administrators to play down definitiveness or risks. The scientists and officials said other releases had been delayed.” [New York Times, 10/19/2004]
In the 2004 presidential campaign, Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry accuses the Bush administration of allowing bin Laden to escape Afghanistan in late 2001 by not sending enough US troops to contain him when he was trapped in the Tora Bora region. The New York Times publishes an op-ed by Gen. Tommy Franks, the former head of US Central Command. Franks writes, “On more than one occasion, Senator Kerry has referred to the fight at Tora Bora in Afghanistan during late 2001 as a missed opportunity for America. He claims that our forces had Osama bin Laden cornered and allowed him to escape. How did it happen? According to Mr. Kerry, we ‘outsourced’ the job to Afghan warlords. As commander of the allied forces in the Middle East, I was responsible for the operation at Tora Bora, and I can tell you that the senator’s understanding of events doesn’t square with reality.… We don’t know to this day whether Mr. bin Laden was at Tora Bora in December 2001. Some intelligence sources said he was; others indicated he was in Pakistan at the time; still others suggested he was in Kashmir. Tora Bora was teeming with Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives, many of whom were killed or captured, but Mr. bin Laden was never within our grasp.” Franks is a vocal supporter of Bush’s reelection. [New York Times, 10/19/2004] Shortly after Franks’ comments, four Knight Ridder reporters who had been at Tora Bora during the battle revisit the issue. They discover that “Franks and other top officials ignored warnings from their own and allied military and intelligence officers that the combination of precision bombing, special operations forces, and Afghan forces that had driven the Taliban from northern Afghanistan might not work in the heartland of the country’s dominant Pashtun tribe.” [Knight Ridder, 10/30/2004] Author Peter Bergen asserts, “There is plenty of evidence that bin Laden was at Tora Bora, and no evidence indicating that he was anywhere else at the time.” Bergen cites after-action US intelligence reports and interviews with US counterterrorism officials that express confidence bin Laden was at Tora Bora. He notes that bin Laden discussed his presence at the Tora Bora battle in a audio message released in 2003. [PeterBergen (.com), 10/28/2004] In 2005, Gary Berntsen, who was in charge of an on-the-ground CIA team trying to find bin Laden (see September 26, 2001), will claim that he gave Franks definitive evidence that bin Laden was trapped in Tora Bora (see Late October-Early December 2001). [Financial Times, 1/3/2006] In 2006, former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will comment, “Yes, we know [bin Laden] absolutely was there.… And yes, he did escape. And Gen. Franks and the president can deny it until the cows come home, but they made a mistake. They did let him go away.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006] In late 2006, it will be reported that the CIA possesses a video showing bin Laden walking out of Afghanistan at the end of the Tora Bora battle. It has not been reported if the CIA was aware of this video in 2004 or not (see Mid-December 2001).
Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Thomas Franks, Peter Bergen, George W. Bush, John Kerry, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Gary Berntsen, Osama bin Laden, Taliban
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan, 2004 Elections
The fractious and contentious relationship between the White House and the CIA, never good since planning began for the Iraq war (see January 2003), has boiled over into the public eye in recent days, according to a New York Times report. James Pavitt, the former head of the CIA’s Clandestine Service, says he has never seen anything approaching “the viciousness and vindictiveness” of the relationship between the White House and the CIA. In recent days, numerous classified assessments have been leaked to the press by people sympathetic to the CIA (see September 16, 2004, September 28, 2004, and October 4, 2004), “to the considerable embarrassment of the White House.” The White House, in turn, has called the authors of the assessments “pessimists and naysayers,” and dismissed a recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq as based on guesswork (see September 21-23, 2004). Some Republican partisans claim that the CIA is waging an “insurgency” or “vendetta” against the White House, an idea that both White House and CIA officials officially reject. “Wars bring things out in people that sometimes other disputes don’t,” says James Woolsey, a neoconservative and former CIA director who is a strong supporter of the administration’s Iraq and terrorism policies. “But even with the passions of war, I think you ought to keep it within channels.” Another former intelligence official is more critical of the agency: “The agency’s role is to tell the administration what it thinks, not to criticize its policies.” CIA defenders say it is important to set the record straight by revealing the agency’s warnings about the possible dire consequences of an Iraq occupation, warnings which the White House either ignored or mocked. “There was nothing in the intelligence that was a casus belli for war,” Pavitt says, noting that while the CIA might have been wrong about Iraq and WMD, it was much closer to the mark in its prewar warnings about the obstacles that an American occupying force would face in postwar Iraq. But, Pavitt, notes, “[t]he agency is not out to undermine this president.” [New York Times, 10/2/2004] Conservative defenders of the administration angrily attack the CIA for “insubordination” and betrayal, leaving liberals and progressives in the unusual position of defending the agency. [Roberts, 2008, pp. 153]
A US PSYOP leaflet disseminated in Iraq showing a caricature of al-Zarqawi caught in a rat trap. The caption reads: “This is your future, Zarqawi.” [Source: US Department of Defense]The Telegraph reports that US military intelligence agents in Iraq believe that the role of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the supposed leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, has been greatly exaggerated. The Bush administration has used al-Zarqawi as a villain to blame post-invasion troubles in the Iraq war and to connect the Iraqi insurgency to al-Qaeda (see February 9, 2004). [Daily Telegraph, 10/4/2004] For instance, in April 2004, US military spokesman Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch said that more than 90 percent of the suicide attacks in Iraq were carried out by terrorists recruited and trained by al-Zarqawi. [Washington Post, 6/10/2006] The Telegraph reports: “US military intelligence agents in Iraq have revealed a series of botched and often tawdry dealings with unreliable sources who, in the words of one source, ‘told us what we wanted to hear… We were basically paying up to $10,000 a time to opportunists, criminals, and chancers who passed off fiction and supposition about al-Zarqawi as cast-iron fact, making him out as the linchpin of just about every attack in Iraq… Back home this stuff was gratefully received and formed the basis of policy decisions. We needed a villain, someone identifiable for the public to latch on to, and we got one.’” Millitary intelligence officials believe that the insurgency is dominated by Iraqis and that the number of foreign fighters such as al-Zarqawi could be as low as 200. However, some of these officials complain that their reports to US leaders about this are largely being ignored. [Daily Telegraph, 10/4/2004] In 2006, leaked classified US military documents will show that the US military ran a propaganda campaign from at least early 2004 to exaggerate al-Zarqawi’s importance in the US and Iraqi media (see April 10, 2006).
Knight Ridder Newspapers reports on a leaked CIA assessment that undercuts the White House claim of links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. The assessment, requested some months ago by Vice President Cheney, finds no evidence to show that Saddam’s regime ever harbored Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an independent colleague of Osama bin Laden (see April 2002), and finds no evidence of any “collaborative relationship” between the former Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda (see October 2, 2002). In February 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell told the United Nations Security Council that al-Zarqawi went to Baghdad for medical treatment and, while there, helped establish a terrorist base in Baghdad (see February 5, 2003). The assessment now shows that claim was incorrect. So was the administration’s claim that al-Zarqawi received safe haven from Hussein. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who in September 2002 called the evidence of links between Hussein and al-Qaeda “bulletproof” (see September 26, 2002), now says, “To my knowledge, I have not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two.” Rumsfeld continues, “I just read an intelligence report recently about one person [al-Zarqawi] who’s connected to al-Qaeda who was in and out of Iraq and there’s the most tortured description of why he might have had a relationship and why he might not have had a relationship.” In June 2003, President Bush called al-Zarqawi “the best evidence of connection” between Iraq and al-Qaeda; after the assessments are leaked, Bush insists that al-Zarqawi “was in and out of Baghdad,” apparently continuing to press the idea that Saddam and al-Qaeda were connected. Al-Zarqawi did spend a lot of time in Iraq, but almost always in the northern sections of Iraq where Saddam’s control did not reach. [Knight Ridder, 10/4/2004] The day after the Knight Ridder report, Vice President Cheney will say during a debate with vice-presidential opponent John Edwards (D-NC) that al-Zarqawi was based in Baghdad both before and after the March 2003 invasion, a claim that is demonstrably false (see October 5, 2004).
Judge Thomas Hogan holds New York Times reporter Judith Miller in contempt for refusing to answer a subpoena from the grand jury investigating the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA identity (see August 12, 2004 and After). [Washington Post, 7/3/2007; Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, 11/19/2009] Hogan orders Miller jailed for up to 18 months after she informs him she will not answer questions from special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald about her conversations with officials. In turn, Hogan says Miller has no special right as a reporter to defy a subpoena in a criminal investigation. Hogan rules that he is satisfied Fitzgerald has exhausted other avenues of determining key information about the Plame Wilson identity leak, and that his questioning of journalists is a last resort rather than a “fishing expedition,” as the Times has argued. “The special counsel has made a limited, deferential approach to the press in this matter,” Hogan says. He goes on to note that journalists’ promise to protect their sources is outweighed by the government’s duty to investigate a serious crime. In a 1972 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment does not protect reporters called before a criminal grand jury. “We have a classic confrontation between conflicting interests,” Hogan says. Miller remains free on bond while the Times appeals his decision. After the ruling, Miller tells a group of reporters: “It’s really frightening when journalists can be put in jail for doing their job effectively. This is about all journalists and about all government officials who provide information on the promise of confidentiality. Without that, they won’t come forward, and the public won’t be informed.” Times executive editor Bill Keller says he is disturbed that Bush administration officials had been asked by their superiors in this case to sign waivers of confidentiality agreements with reporters (see January 2-5, 2004). “This is going to become all the rage in corporate and government circles,” he says. “It’s really spooky.” [CBS News, 10/7/2004; Washington Post, 10/8/2004]
US News and World Report journalist Paul Bedard says that many Bush administration officials have shifted their communications from the government’s official, authorized email servers to private, less traceable Web mail servers. A recent report that some 20 million Clinton administration emails would be made public prompted at least one Bush official to tell Bedard, “I don’t want my email made public.” Instead, says another administration official, “It’s Yahoo!, baby,” referring to the Web provider Yahoo! and its free email service. [US News and World Report, 10/10/2004]
Deputy White House chief of staff Karl Rove, President Bush’s top political adviser, testifies for a third time before the grand jury investigating the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see December 30, 2003). (The date of Rove’s second testimony to the grand jury is not publicly known, though Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff later says Rove testified twice in February 2004.) Rove tells the jury that he spoke with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), a conversation he has failed to disclose in previous testimony both before the jury and when interviewed by FBI agents (see October 8, 2003 and February 2004). Rove now says he recalls speaking with Cooper, but cannot remember details of their conversation. His lawyer, Robert Luskin, says Rove “answered fully and truthfully every one of their questions,” and did not try to avoid answering questions on legal grounds. White House press secretary Scott McClellan says that Rove’s testimony shows he is “doing his part to cooperate” in the probe. Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, charges that Rove and other Bush aides are refusing to tell the public everything they know about the outing of Plame Wilson as a CIA official. “Karl Rove needs to come clean and tell us what he told the grand jury today,” McAuliffe says. Luskin claims that Rove has been informed he is not a target of the inquiry. [Time, 10/15/2004; New York Times, 10/16/2004; National Journal, 4/28/2006; Newsweek, 5/8/2006]
Names Libby - Rove informs the jury that he may have learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from former White House official Lewis Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. Almost a year later, the Washington Post will learn of Rove’s naming of Libby from “a source familiar with Rove’s account.” Days before Plame Wilson’s identity was publicly revealed (see July 14, 2003), Libby and Rove discussed conversations they had had with Cooper and other, unnamed reporters. Both Plame Wilson’s CIA identity and her husband, war critic Joseph Wilson, were discussed, Rove tells the jury. He says that his conversations with Libby were confined to information the two men heard from reporters. He also says he heard about Plame Wilson’s CIA identity from “someone outside the White House,” but cannot recall that person’s identity. [Washington Post, 10/20/2005]
Claim of Memory Failure - Rove has claimed not to remember the conversation between himself and Cooper, but has recently found an e-mail he sent to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley confirming the conversation (see After 11:07 a.m. July 11, 2003). Rove and Luskin claim that Rove only recently found the e-mail and immediately turned it over to Fitzgerald’s investigators. They claim that Rove never intended to withhold evidence from the investigation. [New York Times, 11/4/2005]
Kerry Campaign Calls for Full Disclosure from White House - Joe Lockhart, the campaign spokesman for the presidential campaign of John Kerry (D-MA), says: “With two weeks to go before the election, the American people are still in the dark about how it is that their White House leaked the name of an undercover CIA operative to the press, jeopardizing the life of this agent and possibly violating federal law. Instead of hiding behind the lawyers he so often likes to criticize, George Bush should direct Karl Rove and anyone else involved to go to the White House briefing room and come clean about their role in this insidious act.” [Salon, 10/15/2004]
Entity Tags: Scott McClellan, Terry McAuliffe, Stephen J. Hadley, Matthew Cooper, Robert Luskin, Karl C. Rove, Bush administration (43), Federal Bureau of Investigation, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Joe Lockhart, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
John Bolton, a neoconservative and the Bush administration’s chief official in charge of arms reduction, says he does not believe that the unsecured nuclear weapons and items of nuclear technology belonging to the former Soviet Union pose any threat to US security. Three years earlier, a commission reported that Russian and other Eastern European “loose nukes” posed the single greatest danger to the US. “I don’t believe that at this point, or for some number of years, there’s been a significant risk of a Russian nuclear weapon getting into terrorist hands,” Bolton says. “I say that in part because of all the money we’ve spent… but also because the Russians themselves are completely aware that the most likely consequence of losing control of one of their own nuclear weapons is that it will be used in Russia.” [Washington Post, 10/26/2004] In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write, “This assessment flew in the face of all available evidence regarding what had and had not been accomplished in Russia.” Only 54 percent of former Soviet facilities containing nuclear materials are under satisfactory security measures. The US has no idea how many Russian tactical nuclear weapons exist, where they are stored, or how well they are guarded, if they are guarded at all. Scoblic will write, “These are the weapons that nuclear experts calculate terrorists would most likely steal because their smaller size makes them easier to transport and conceal.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 209]
State Department official John Bolton, a neoconservative and arms control opponent who heads the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA), defends the Bush administration record on North Korea. He is particularly dismissive of the North Koreans’ new, expanded nuclear weapons arsenal. “This is quibbling, to say they had two plutonium-based weapons and now they have seven,” Bolton says. “The uranium enrichment capability gives them the ability to produce an unlimited number.” Bolton asserts that the problem started during the Clinton administration, when, he says, Bill Clinton tried to normalize relations with North Korea and his Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, was “dancing in Pyongyang and watching parades.” [Washington Post, 10/26/2004] In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will find Bolton’s mocking insouciance “shocking.” “In fact it was not quibbling,” he will write of the North Koreans’ expanded arsenal. “Having an extra half dozen weapons gave North Korea the freedom to use a few—or even sell a few—and still maintain an arsenal.” Scoblic will also note what Bolton does not, that North Korea is years away from producing any fissile material with its uranium enrichment program. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 242]
The White House decides that the Department of Homeland Security should raise the threat level to orange in the days before the presidential election. The ostensible reason for this is an Osama bin Laden videotaped speech (see October 29, 2004). However, many in the administration, including Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge, believe the proposal to raise the threat level may be politically motivated (see October 29, 2004). In his 2009 book The Test of Our Times, Ridge will write: “The timing of the tape may have been a surprise; the content was not. Within the department no one felt it necessary to consider additional security measures or to call the Homeland Security Council into session.” The situation is different among White House officials. “A vigorous, some might say dramatic, discussion ensued” over the need for the alert, Ridge will write. “Then-Attorney General John Ashcroft strongly urged an increase in the threat level and was supported by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.… There was absolutely no support for that position within our department. None. I wondered, ‘Is this about security or politics?’ Post-election analysis demonstrated a significant increase in the president’s approval rating in the days after the raising of the threat level.” Ridge will continue: “As the minutes passed at our video conference, we concluded that others in the administration were operating with the same threat information that we had at DHS, and they didn’t know any more than we did. And we concluded that the idea was still a bad one. It also seemed possible to me and to others around the table that something could be afoot other than simple concern about the country’s safety.” The administration chooses not to raise the threat level. Ridge will write: “I believe our strong interventions had pulled the ‘go-up’ advocates back from the brink. But I consider the episode to be not only a dramatic moment in Washington’s recent history, but another illustration of the intersection of politics, fear, credibility, and security.” He will write that the episode is a strong influence on his upcoming decision to resign his post and leave Washington. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 8/9/2009; TPM Muckraker, 8/20/2009; MSNBC, 9/2/2009]
A former CIA officer will tell New Yorker reporter Seymour Hersh that, in mid-2004, the White House began putting pressure on CIA analysts “to see more support for the administration’s political position.” But after Porter Goss becomes the new CIA director (see September 24, 2004) and the November 2004 election passes, a “political purge” of employees who have written papers that dissent with Bush policies begins. One former official notes that only “true believers” remain. [New Yorker, 1/24/2005]
'Creeping Politicization' - An anonymous former CIA official tells Newsday: “The agency is being purged on instructions from the White House. Goss was given instructions… to get rid of those soft leakers and liberal Democrats.” [Newsday, 11/14/2004] In 2007, CIA analyst Valerie Plame Wilson will write, “Employees’ worst fears about the creeping politicization of the CIA” are confirmed when Goss issues the memo about the agency supporting the administration. She will observe: “Although a CIA spokesman explained the memo as a statement of the agency’s nonpartisan nature, it appeared to be just the opposite. It had a kind of creepy Orwellian Ministry of Truth ring to it—further dismaying CIA staffers who believed the agency was rapidly losing credibility and power as partisan politics began to degrade its work product.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 212] Days after the November 2004 presidential election, Goss circulates an internal memorandum to all CIA employees, telling them their job is to “support the administration and its policies in our work.” [New York Times, 11/17/2004] The memo also contains a caveat that they should “let the facts alone speak to the policymaker.” However, an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times calls this mere “lip service,” and says the memo leaves “the impression that in the second Bush administration, the White House will run the CIA.… Goss has confirmed the worst fears of critics who warned he was too partisan when Bush appointed him.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/21/2004]
Morale 'Dangerously Low,' Many Senior Officials Leave - Plame Wilson will recall hearing from her colleagues throughout August, while she was on leave, “that morale was dangerously low, and there was a spirit of outright revolt towards Porter Goss and his ‘Gosslings.’ Everyone was calculating the benefits of staying or jumping from the fast-sinking ship.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 213] Such new policies inspire more employees to leave. By the time the purge is completed in early 2005, about 20 senior CIA officials will have resigned or retired. Only one member of the leadership team from George Tenet’s tenure will remain. [Washington Post, 1/6/2005] Newsweek says the “efforts at cleaning house may have only thrown the spy agency into deeper turmoil.” [Newsweek, 2/21/2005] Plame Wilson will write: “At least one thousand years of hard-earned operational experience walked out when our country’s national security needs were greatest. It was devastating.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 213]
The New York Times agrees to a White House request to withhold publication of a potential “bombshell” story: an in-depth article revealing an enormous, and possibly illegal, warrantless wiretapping program executed by the NSA at President Bush’s behest after the 9/11 attacks. The Times will publish the story almost a year later (see December 15, 2005). In August 2006, the Times’s public editor, Byron Calame, will confirm the delay, and note that he has been “increasingly intrigued” by the various descriptions of the delay by Times editor Bill Keller (see December 16, 2005) and others. Keller will tell Calame that, contrary to some statements he and others have made, the story was originally scheduled to be published just days before the November 2004 presidential election. “The climactic discussion about whether to publish was right on the eve of the election,” Keller will say, though he will refuse to explain why he makes the final decision to hold the story. However, he will say that at this time he is not sure the story’s sources are reliable enough to warrant its publication before a close election. [New York Times, 8/13/2006]
Hours after new CIA Director Porter Goss issues a memo telling agency officials that it must support the Bush administration (see November-December 2004 and November 17, 2004), Deputy Director of Operations Stephen Kappes becomes one of the first casualties of Goss’s White House-orchestrated “purge” of the agency. Kappes resigns after his deputy, Michael Sulick, criticizes Goss’s chief of staff, Pat Murray; in turn, Murray sends Sulick what the agency’s head of European operations, Tyler Drumheller, calls “a truly obnoxious e-mail” that “accused Sulick and Kappes, two of the most experienced, respected men in the building, of being fools and lacking integrity.” Murray then orders Kappes to fire Sulick; instead, Kappes and Sulick both submit their resignations. They are the first of over 20 senior CIA officials to leave the agency. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 212-213] A former senior CIA official says that the White House “doesn’t want Steve Kappes to reconsider his resignation. That might be the spin they put on it, but they want him out.” Kappes’s job may be offered to Drumheller. [Newsday, 11/14/2004] In 2006, Kappes will return—after Goss’s abrupt resignation (see May 5, 2006)—as deputy director of the CIA (see June 1, 2006).
Secretary of State Colin Powell, having lent an air of gravitas and sobriety to the Bush administration during the re-election campaign, is told by White House chief of staff Andrew Card that he will not remain at his post for the second term. Powell agrees to pretend that he has decided to resign by his own choice rather than admit that he is being dismissed. [Unger, 2007, pp. 326]
CIA Director Porter Goss, known for being dogmatically loyal to the White House (see September 25, 2003 and November-December 2004), responds to the recent spate of leaked CIA memos (see September 16, 2004, September 28, 2004, and October 4, 2004) by issuing a memo reminding agency staff that they should “scrupulously honor our secrecy oath.” The memo is leaked to the press the next day. Goss says, “Intelligence-related issues have become the fodder of partisan food fights and turf-power skirmishes.” Goss warns that agency officials must publicly support Bush administration policies: “As agency employees we do not identify with, support or champion opposition to the administration or its policies,” Goss writes. His intention is, he writes, “to clarify beyond doubt the rules of the road.” Goss’s words may indicate that CIA employees must conform with administration policies and goals, but he also writes, “We provide the intelligence as we see it—and let the facts alone speak to the policymaker.” Many critics of the agency and its leadership say that Goss’s memo is part of his attempt to squelch dissent within the agency’s ranks. “If Goss is asking people to color their views and be a team player, that’s not what people at CIA signed up for,” says a former intelligence official. Ron Wyden (D-OR), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says that “on issue after issue, there’s a real question about whether the country and the Congress are going to get an unvarnished picture of our intelligence situation at a critical time.” [New York Times, 11/17/2004; Roberts, 2008, pp. 153]
The new director of the CIA, Porter Goss (see September 24, 2004), issues a memo to CIA employees that, in author Craig Unger’s words, “instantly confirm[s] his reputation as an administration loyalist.” The memo reads in part: “As agency employees we do not identify with, support, or champion opposition to the administration in its policies. [Our job is] to support the administration and its policies in our work.” While the CIA has been sensitive to the desires of previous administrations, it has always worked to keep at least some distance between itself and the political ebb and flow of Washington, and tried to preserve at least some degree of impartiality. Goss intends to change all that and make the CIA another arm of the White House. Unger will later write: “With [soon-to-be named Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice, [soon-to-be National Security Adviser Stephen] Hadley, and Goss in key positions, Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld had consolitated control over national security to an unprecedented degree. The notion that America’s $40 billion intelligence apparatus would speak truth to power had become a pipe dream.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 326]
Secretary of State Colin Powell tells reporters that the US has intelligence showing Iran’s active pursuit of a nuclear warhead. The evidence, Powell says, documents Iran’s attempt to adapt ballistic missiles to deliver nuclear payloads. He says: “I have seen some information that would suggest that they have been actively working on delivery systems.… You don’t have a weapon until you put it in something that can deliver a weapon.… I’m not talking about uranium or fissile material or the warhead; I’m talking about what one does with a warhead.” Powell does not claim that Iran has the nuclear material—enriched uranium—to actually construct a bomb. “I’m talking about information that says they not only have these missiles, but I am aware of information that suggests that they were working hard as to how to put the two together.… There is no doubt in my mind—and it’s fairly straightforward from what we’ve been saying for years—that they have been interested in a nuclear weapon that has utility, meaning that it is something they would be able to deliver, not just something that sits there.”
Implication - Nonproliferation expert Joseph Cirincione says that Powell is implying that Iran is trying to reduce the size of a nuclear warhead to fit on one of its ballistic missiles, a difficult task. “Powell appears to be saying the Iranians are working very hard on this capability,” Cirincione says. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said just days before that it had not seen any information that Iran had conducted weapons-related work, Cirincione notes. The Bush administration is likely to press for sanctions from the UN. Powell says that the US will monitor international verification efforts in Iran “with necessary and deserved caution because for 20 years the Iranians have been trying to hide things from the international community.” [Washington Post, 11/18/2004]
Claims Said to Be Unverified - A day later, US officials say Powell’s claims are unverified, and come from a single, unvetted source that has not yet checked out. The single source is an Iranian citizen who approached US intelligence officials with a laptop computer crammed with documents and sketches purporting to be from Iran’s nuclear weapons program (see Summer 2004). Powell and other senior Cabinet members were briefed on the laptop revelations last week, and though it was stamped “No Foreign,” meaning it was not to be shared with any foreign nations, President Bush decided to share some of the information with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Administration officials tell diplomats from Britain, France, and Germany that Powell misspoke in alluding to the laptop intelligence. Powell’s office says Powell stands by his remarks. [Washington Post, 11/19/2004]
Bush administration officials ask the UN to allow US industries to use an additional 458 tons of methyl bromide, an ozone-destroying pesticide that is slated for elimination by an international environmental treaty (see March 24-26, 2004). The 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer calls for gradually phasing out methyl bromide use by January 1, 2005, but allows for critical use exemptions in limited cases thereafter. The additional increase request brings the US’s total exemption for the year 2005 to 9,400 metric tons of methyl bromide, more than all other nations’ requests combined, and well over the 7,674 metric tons used by US agribusiness in 2002. [Pesticide Action Network Updates Service, 12/10/2004; Environmental Science & Technology, 1/12/2005] Though the stated goal of the Montreal Protocol is to gradually phase out methyl bromide use, the head of the US delegation to the UN and Bush appointee Claudia McMurray will later tell a reporter, “I can’t say to you that each year the numbers [of pounds used] would automatically go down.” [Seattle Times, 11/28/2005]
Daniel Levin. [Source: ABC News]Daniel Levin, the acting chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), goes to a military base near Washington and has himself subjected to simulated waterboarding to judge for himself whether or not the interrogation tactic is torture. Levin then tells White House officials that he found the experience terrifying, and he is sure it simulates drowning. Levin concludes that waterboarding clearly qualifies as torture and should not be used by US personnel except in a highly limited and closely supervised fashion. Levin, who like his predecessor Jack Goldsmith (see June 17, 2004) is deeply troubled by the White House’s advocacy of torture as a method of securing information from terror suspects, and by its refusal to issue clear guidelines as to what is and what is not torture, decides to prepare a memo—legally binding—to replace the August 2002 Justice Department memo that established torture as an acceptable method of interrogation. Goldsmith had already withdrawn the memo after finding it deeply flawed (see December 2003-June 2004). In December 2004, Levin issues his new memo, which flatly states that “[t]orture is abhorrent” (see December 30, 2004), but he notes that the Justice Department is not declaring any previous positions by the administration illegal. Levin is planning a second memo that will impose tighter restrictions on specific interrogation techniques, but he never gets the chance to complete it. New attorney general Alberto Gonzales forces him out of the department instead, and replaces him with a much more compliant OLC chief, Steven Bradbury (see June 23, 2005). Most experts believe that waterboarding is indeed torture, and that torture is a poor way of extracting accurate information. Retired Rear Admiral John Hutson will say, “There is no question this is torture—this is a technique by which an individual is strapped to a board, elevated by his feet and either dunked into water or water poured over his face over a towel or a blanket.” [ABC News, 11/2/2007; Think Progress, 11/3/2007; GulfNews, 11/5/2007] Gonzales is widely believed to have been selected as the new attorney general in part to ease the way for the Bush administration to continue its support for torture as a valid method of interrogation. Shortly after taking the office, Gonzales pressured Levin to add the footnote exculpating the administration from any legal responsibility for its previous positions, and shortly thereafter, Gonzales has Levin removed from the department. In November 2007, the Washington Post’s editorial board will decry Gonzales’s ouster of Levin, and the administration’s support for torture, as a blatant “disregard for principle.” [Washington Post, 11/6/2007] MSNBC host Keith Olbermann, a harsh critic of the Bush administration, will later call Levin “an astonishingly patriotic American and a brave man.” He will fire a broadside directly at the president: “Daniel Levin should have a statue in his honor in Washington right now. Instead, he was forced out as acting assistant attorney general nearly three years ago because he had the guts to do what George Bush couldn’t do in a million years: actually put himself at risk for the sake of his country, for the sake of what is right.” [MSNBC, 11/5/2007]
Entity Tags: Washington Post, US Department of Justice, Steven Bradbury, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Daniel Levin, Bush administration (43), Keith Olbermann, George W. Bush, John D. Hutson, Jack Goldsmith, Alberto R. Gonzales
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visits Kabul, Afghanistan. During his visit Afghan President Hamid Karzai consents to Washington’s decision to establish nine more permanent military bases in the country. The bases, to be manned by 2,200 troops, will be constructed in Helmand, Herat, Nimrouz, Balkh, Khost and Paktia. In the provinces of Khost and Paktia, there will be two bases. [News Insight, 3/5/2005] Observers note that Afghan President Hamid Karzai had little choice in the matter given that his government’s continuing existence is dependent upon the private security forces provided by the US. [Asia Times, 3/30/2005]
The House approves the intelligence reform bill 336-75 after a two week stand-off instigated by House Speaker Dennis Hastert on behalf of the White House and Pentagon, which publicly professed support for the bill. A compromise was not reached with the Republicans until the intelligence reform bill was altered to reduce the power of the new national intelligence director so that the secretary of defense could maintain his “statutory responsibilities.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/21/2004; CNN, 11/24/2004; CNN, 12/8/2004; Washington Post, 1/23/2005; New Yorker, 1/24/2005] “[Rumsfeld]‘s plan was to get a compromise in the bill in which the Pentagon keeps its marbles and the CIA loses theirs,” a former high-level intelligence official tells investigative reporter Seymour Hersh. “Then all the pieces of the puzzle fall in place. He gets authority for covert action that is not attributable, the ability to directly task national-intelligence assets” including US spy satellites. “Rumsfeld will no longer have to refer anything through the government’s intelligence wringer,” the former official continues. “The intelligence system was designed to put competing agencies in competition. What’s missing will be the dynamic tension that insures everyone’s priorities—in the CIA, the DOD, the FBI, and even the Department of Homeland Security—are discussed. The most insidious implication of the new system is that Rumsfeld no longer has to tell people what he’s doing so they can ask, ‘Why are you doing this?’ or ‘What are your priorities?’ Now he can keep all of the mattress mice out of it.” [New Yorker, 1/24/2005]
Columnist and media observer Allan Wolper notes that while conservative columnist Robert Novak, who outed CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson apparently at the behest of the White House (see July 14, 2003), continues to “spout… off in his syndicated column, he keeps a secret he would not permit any politician to get away with.” Wolper is writing of Novak’s continued refusal to divulge whether he was subpoenaed by the grand jury investigating the case, or if he testified before that grand jury. Wolper calls it an “untenable ethical position,” and bolsters his position with observations from media ethicists such as Robert Steele, the director of ethics for the Poynter Institute of Media Studies. “If he has a justifiable reason to withhold that information, he should give a reason why,” Steele says. “Otherwise, he is undermining his credibility as an honest broker of ethical journalism. If he were on the other side, he would challenge journalists for not saying anything.” Novak is defended by, among others, Washington Post reporter and assistant managing editor Bob Woodward, who says: “Bob Novak has taken a stand that is supported by many in the press. He is protecting his sources. He has done nothing that is illegal or improper.” (Wolper is unaware as of this writing that Woodward has his own secondary involvement in the case, having been himself told of Plame Wilson’s identity several times before (see June 13, 2003, June 23, 2003, and June 27, 2003).) Wolper notes that while Novak has refused to speak about subpoenas or testimonies, Post reporters Glenn Kessler and Walter Pincus have both given sworn depositions to the grand jury (see June 22, 2004 and September 15, 2004). Wolper writes, “They might have been able to fight off their subpoenas if their lawyers had known whether Novak… had been called by the grand jury.” Aside from Kessler and Pincus, Time reporter Matthew Cooper (see July 17, 2003) testified after being threatened with jail (see May 21, 2004, August 24, 2004, July 6, 2005, and July 13, 2005), and New York Times reporter Judith Miller is facing jail rather than testify (see December 2004). “Novak has an obligation to own up,” Wolper writes. Instead, “Novak continues to live a charmed life in journalism, writing his column and appearing regularly on CNN, where he is never challenged.” CNN media critic Jeff Greenfield says of Novak’s case, “I haven’t thought it through. I don’t want to talk about it, because I have no opinion on it.” Jack Nelson, the retired bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times, says: “This whole thing is really strange. Novak was the guy who wrote the column that exposed the CIA agent, and yet they don’t seem to be going after him.” [Editor & Publisher, 12/1/2004]
Entity Tags: Jack Nelson, Bob Woodward, Allan Wolper, Bush administration (43), Glenn Kessler, Walter Pincus, Robert Steele, Jeff Greenfield, Judith Miller, Valerie Plame Wilson, CNN, Matthew Cooper, Robert Novak
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Knight Ridder reports that, according to US officials, congressional aides and other sources, Pentagon and White House officials “are developing plans to increase public criticism of Iran’s human-rights record, offer stronger backing to exiles and other opponents of Iran’s repressive theocratic government and collect better intelligence on Iran.” Additionally, the administration would like to withdraw troops from Iraq so Bush would have “greater flexibility in dealing with Iran,” one official tells the newspaper. [Knight Ridder, 12/8/2004] The news agency also says that the US is using the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) as a source for intelligence on Iran’s weapons programs, even though the organization “remains on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist groups.” [Knight Ridder, 12/8/2004]
The White House prepares to launch a huge PR campaign to win public support for sweeping changes to Social Security, including the creation of individual accounts with the option to invest (and win or lose) in the stock market, and partial privatization of the management of social security investments. In 2008, current White House press secretary Scott McClellan will write: “It was the kind of bold domestic initiative Bush had always hoped would define his presidency. He would get it passed through a massive [public relations] campaign to bring public pressure to bear on Congress.” The first major strategy meeting to develop the White House PR campaign centers on two main foci:
“Educating” the public about the economic and fiscal problems facing Social Security, the need to fix them, and creating a “crisis mentality” among the public, which, McClellan will write, “would give us a better shot at getting the necessary public support to bring about bipartisan backing for our reform plan in Congress”;
Shaping the solution and ensuring that “personal retirement accounts,” as the stock accounts will be termed, are included.
The White House’s congressional liaison, David Hobbs, says: “Seventy percent of the battle is defining the problem and putting Congressional leaders on the spot. We need public pressure.” The plan is for Bush to travel around the country touting the program, specifically visiting states and districts represented by targeted members of Congress. “Bush would use the re-election hopes of those crucial swing votes in Congress as the lever with which to apply the pressure required,” McClellan later writes. McClellan will reflect that, though the marketing campaign is well thought out, the reform plan isn’t, writing: “We were spending excessive effort on selling our sketchily designed plan while skimping on other elements of the process that probably should have been at least as important. We weren’t spending much time deliberating with members of Congress to work out details of our reform plan—we were doing minimal outreach to Democrats to build the kind of consensus that would make such a dramatic change easier to pass. Instead, we were leapfrogging many of the vital steps and jumping straight to the stage in the process we found most congenial—the public relations effort.” McClellan will compare the Social Security campaign to the administration’s efforts to market the Iraq invasion, calling it “reminiscent of the way we’d short-circuited debate over the necessity for war in Iraq and chose instead to turn it into the subject of a massive marketing blitz. We used a similar approach as we planned the Social Security campaign. With Iraq, it was a threat that needed confronting, with Social Security, it was a crisis that needed solving.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 248-249]
Congress passes a law requiring the director of national intelligence (DNI) to recruit and train women and minorities to be spies, analysts, and translators in order to ensure diversity in the intelligence community. President Bush signs the bill, then issues a signing statement ordering the executive branch—including the DNI—to construe the law in a manner consistent with a constitutional clause guaranteeing “equal protection” for all: a legalistic phrasing designed to sidestep the law. Bush has long been an opponent of any sort of affirmative action program; as recently as 2003, the Supreme Court ruled against the Bush administration’s “equal protection” arguments and in favor of a race-conscious affirmative action program. In his signing statement, Bush advances the “equal protection” argument over affirmative action in spite of the Supreme Court’s rejection of that argument. [Boston Globe, 4/30/2006; Savage, 2007, pp. 240-241]
Congress passes a law forbidding US troops in Colombia, who are there advising the government in its struggle against Marxist rebels funded by drug money, from engaging in any combat against the rebels except in self-defense. The law also caps the number of American soldiers deployed in Colombia at 800. President Bush issues a signing statement that only he, as the commander in chief, can place restrictions on the use of US armed forces. Therefore, the executive branch will construe the law “as advisory in nature.” [Boston Globe, 4/30/2006]
The Justice Department issues a 17-page memo which officially replaces the August 2002 memo (see August 1, 2002), which asserted that the president’s wartime powers supersede international anti-torture treaties and defined torture very narrowly, describing it as a tactic that produces pain “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” The new memo, authored by acting chief of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) and Acting Assistant Attorney General Daniel Levin, is ostensibly meant to deflect criticisms that the Bush administration condones torture. In fact, the very first sentence reads, “Torture is abhorrent both to American law and values and to international norms.” But the White House insists that the new memo does not represent a change in policy because the administration has always respected international laws prohibiting the mistreatment of prisoners. The primary concern of the new memo is to broaden the narrow definition of torture that had been used in the August memo. Levin adopts the definition of torture used in Congressional anti-torture laws, which says that torture is the infliction of physical suffering, “even if it does not involve severe physical pain.” But the pain must still be more than “mild and transitory,” the memo says. Like the original memo, Levin says that torture may include mental suffering. But to be considered so it would not have to last for months or years, as OLC lawyers Jay Bybee and John Yoo had asserted two years earlier. The most contested conclusions of the August 2002 memo—concerning the president’s wartime powers and potential legal defense for US personnel charged with war crimes—are not addressed in the Levin memo. “Consideration of the bounds of any such authority would be inconsistent with the president’s unequivocal directive that United States personnel not engage in torture,” the memo says. [US Department of Justice, 12/30/2004 ; Associated Press, 12/31/2004]
National Security Not a Justification for Torture - The memo also attempts to quell concerns that the administration believes national security may be used as justification for tactics that could be considered as torture. It states, “[A] defendant’s motive (to protect national security, for example) is not relevant to the question whether he has acted with the requisite specific intent under the statute.” [US Department of Justice, 12/30/2004 ]
Memo Divided White House Officials - Many in the White House opposed the issuance of the memo, but were rebuffed when other administration officials said the memo was necessary to ease the confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General. [New York Times, 10/4/2007]
Torture Opponents Disappointed - Civil libertarians and opponents of torture within the Justice Department are sharply disappointed in the memo. While it gives a marginally less restrictive definition of the pain required to qualify as torture, and gives no legal defenses to anyone who might be charged with war crimes, it takes no position on the president’s authority to override interrogation laws and treaties, and finds that all the practices previously employed by the CIA and military interrogators were and are legal. Yoo will later write that “the differences in the opinions were for appearances’ sake. In the real world of interrogation policy, nothing had changed. The new opinion just reread the statute to deliberately blur the interpretation of torture as a short-term political maneuver in response to public criticism.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 196-197]
Secret Memo Will Allow Waterboarding; Dissidents Purged - A secret memo is completed a short time later that allows such torture techniques as waterboarding to be used again (see February 2005). The Levin memo triggers a department-wide “purge” of dissidents and torture opponents; some will resign voluntarily, while others will resign after being denied expected promotions. [Savage, 2007, pp. 197]
Washington State businessman Tom McCabe, the executive vice president of the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) and a prominent Republican activist, is angered by what he considers “voter fraud” in the disputed gubernatorial election between Christine Gregoire (D-WA) and Dino Rossi (R-WA—see December 23, 2004 - January 12, 2005). He is further frustrated by what he considers the reluctance by Republican John McKay (see October 24, 2001 and Late 2004 or Early 2005), the US Attorney for Western Washington, to pursue the allegations. McCabe repeatedly contacts the White House to demand McKay’s firing. McKay will later say, “There was no evidence, and I am not going to drag innocent people in front of a grand jury.” McCabe told McKay he had evidence of forged signatures on absentee ballots cast for Gregoire (see December 2004), and attempted to persuade the FBI to launch an investigation. Neither McKay nor the FBI will be convinced by McCabe’s evidence (see January 4, 2005). Of McKay’s refusal to pursue the allegations, McCabe later recalls, “It started me wondering whether the US Attorney was doing his job.” McKay later says that the FBI concluded that the ballots cited by McCabe were not forgeries. [Seattle Times, 3/13/2007; Talking Points Memo, 2011]
A five-member team in the Justice Department’s civil rights division reviews a new Georgia law requiring voters to present a photo ID or buy one for $20. Four of the five members say the law will disproportionately suppress minority votes because minorities are less likely to have a driver’s license or passport. Division supervisors—Bush administration political appointees—approve the law in spite of the team’s conclusion. A judge later throws the law out, comparing it to a Jim Crow-era poll tax (see September 19, 2006). The single member of the division team who favored the law is a recent political hire, a graduate of the University of Mississippi Law School, and a member of the Federalist Society and the Christian Legal Society (see Fall 2002 and After). [Savage, 2007, pp. 297]
The US search for Osama bin Laden slows down for several years. According to an unnamed former Bush White House official speaking in 2011, “a little fatigue had set in” after a few years of mostly false leads. “We weren’t about to find him anytime soon. Publicly, we maintained a sense of urgency: ‘We’re looking as hard as we can.’ But the energy had gone out of the hunt. It had settled to no more than a second-tier issue. After all, those were the worst days of Iraq.” White House and CIA officials will later say that the war in Iraq and problems with Iran and North Korea took much attention from the search for bin Laden. Juan Zarate, President Bush’s deputy national security adviser for counterterrorism at this time, later says that few new leads emerge. “It was a very dark period.” [Washington Post, 5/6/2011] In December 2004, the Telegraph reported that the US search for bin Laden had essentially been abandoned (see December 14, 2004), and in late 2005, the CIA’s bin Laden unit is shut down (see Late 2005). There is a new push to get bin Laden, also in late 2005, but it has little effect (see Late 2005).
The US sends teams of US-trained former Iranian exiles, sometimes accompanied by US Special Forces, from Iraq into southern and eastern Iran to search for underground nuclear installations. [New Yorker, 1/24/2005; United Press International, 1/26/2005; Guardian, 1/29/2005] In the north, Israeli-trained Kurds from northern Iraq, occasionally assisted by US forces, look for signs of nuclear activity as well. [United Press International, 1/26/2005] Both teams are tasked with planting remote detection devices, known as “sniffers,” which can sense radioactive emissions and other indicators of nuclear-enrichment programs while also helping US war planners establish targets. [New Yorker, 1/24/2005; United Press International, 1/26/2005] The former Iranian exiles operating in the south and east are members of Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a group that has been included in the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations since 1997 (see 1997) and included in a government white paper (see September 12, 2002) that criticized Iraq for its support of the group. After the US invaded Iraq, members of MEK were “consolidated, detained, disarmed, and screened for any past terrorist acts” by the US (see July 2004) and designated as “protected persons.” (see July 21, 2004) Initially, the MEK operate from Camp Habib in Basra, but they later launch their incursions from the Baluchi region in Pakistan. [United Press International, 1/26/2005; Newsweek, 2/15/2005] They are assisted by information from Pakistani scientists and technicians who have knowledge of Iran’s nuclear program. [New Yorker, 1/24/2005] Pakistan apparently agreed to cooperate with the US in exchange for assurances that Pakistan would not have to turn over A. Q. Khan, the so-called “father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb,” to the IAEA or to any other international authorities for questioning. Khan, who is “linked to a vast consortium of nuclear black-market activities,” could potentially be of great assistance to these agencies in their efforts to undermine nuclear weapons proliferation. [New Yorker, 1/24/2005] In addition to allowing Pakistan to keep Khan, the US looks the other way as Pakistan continues to buy parts for its nuclear-weapons arsenal in the black market, according to a former high-level Pakistani diplomat interviewed by Seymour Hersh [New Yorker, 1/24/2005] The United States’ use of MEK is criticized by Western diplomats and analysts who agree with many Iranians who consider the group to be traitors because they fought alongside Iraqi troops against Iran in the 1980s. [Christian Science Monitor, 12/31/2003]
The US Air Force begins flying sorties over Iran from its bases in Afghanistan and Iraq in order to lure Tehran into turning on air defense radars so the US can develop “an electronic order of battle for Iran.” “We have to know which targets to attack and how to attack them,” an unnamed administration official tells United Press International. [United Press International, 1/26/2005] Bush officials initially deny the overflight reports. [Guardian, 1/29/2005]
Incoming Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, during her confirmation hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, calls North Korea one of the world’s six “outposts of tyranny.” (The others are Cuba, Myanmar—which Rice identifies by its old name of Burma—Iran, Belarus, and Zimbabwe.) In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will cite Rice’s characterization as another example of overheated Bush administration rhetoric that makes it all the more difficult to negotiate with the obstinate North Koreans over their nuclear program (see August 2003). [US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 1/18/2005 ; BBC, 12/2007; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 243]
Two months after leaving office, former Attorney General John Ashcroft opens a lobbying firm on Washington’s prestigious K Street, where he markets his contacts in the Justice and Homeland Security departments to, among others, ChoicePoint, a company that brokers credit data and other personal information on American citizens to government and private entities. The Ashcroft Group quickly earns over $269,000 from four clients, and, the Chicago Tribune will write, “appears to be developing a practice centered on firms that want to capitalize on a government demand for homeland security technology that boomed under sometimes controversial policies he promoted while in office.” Another Ashcroft client is the Oracle Corporation, one of the world’s largest software developers, who, according to the Tribune, will use Ashcroft’s clout with the Justice Department to win approval of a multibillion-dollar acquisition. A third client, LTU Technologies, makes software that analyzes large collections of video and other visual images. Ashcroft’s firm will soon sign a contract with Israel Aircraft Industries to help secure Bush administration approval for the firm to sell weapons to South Korea. The Tribune will write, “While Ashcroft’s lobbying is within government rules for former officials, it is nonetheless a departure from the practice of attorneys general for at least the last 30 years.” Ashcroft is the first former attorney general to open his own lobbying firm. Charles Tiefer, a former deputy general counsel to the House of Representatives, will note, “The attorney general is very much supposed to embody the pure rule of law like the Department of Justice’s statue of ‘Blind Justice’ and he’s not expected afterwards to cloak with the mantle of his former office a bunch of greedy interests.” Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write: “Thus did the government official who recklessly expanded the market for domestic surveillance while in office find a nominally legal way to make a profit on his nominally legal policies as soon as he was out the door. It was the perfect Enron-esque coda to his wartime career.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 208; Inter Press Service, 2/14/2006]
Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, Chicago Tribune, Charles Tiefer, Bush administration (43), ChoicePoint, Israel Aircraft Industries, Oracle Corporation, The Ashcroft Group, LTU Technologies, US Department of Homeland Security, US Department of Justice, Frank Rich
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
A government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon tells investigative reporter Seymour Hersh that the Bush administration has been consolidating control over the military and intelligence communities’ strategic analyses and covert operations, and transforming the role of the CIA into mere “facilitators” of the administration’s policies. [New Yorker, 1/24/2005 Sources: unnamed source interviewed by Seymour Hersh]
Arlen Specter. [Source: US Senate]White House counsel Alberto Gonzales testifies before the US Senate as part of his confirmation as the Bush administration’s new attorney general. Much of the seven hours of testimony focuses on Gonzales’s position on torturing terrorist suspects. He is specifically questioned on the August 2002 Justice Department memo requested by Gonzales that outlined how US officials could interrogate subjects without violating domestic and international laws against torture by setting unusually high standards for the definition of torture (see August 1, 2002). [Democracy Now!, 1/7/2005] Arlen Specter (R-PA) asks Gonzales if he approves of torture. Gonzales replies, “Absolutely not,” but refuses to be pinned down on specifics of exactly what constitutes torture.
Equivocating on the Definition of Torture - Gonzales says he “was sickened and outraged” by the photographs of tortured Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison (see Evening November 7, 2003), but refuses to say whether he believes any of that conduct is criminal, citing ongoing prosecutions. Joseph Biden (D-DE) retorts: “That’s malarkey. You are obliged to comment. That’s your judgment we’re looking at.… We’re looking for candor.” [CNN, 1/7/2005] When asked whether he agrees with the August 2002 memo that said, “[F]or an act to violate the torture statute, it must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death,” Gonzales says: “We were trying to interpret the standard set by Congress. There was discussion between the White House and Department of Justice as well as other agencies about what does this statute mean? It was a very, very difficult—I don’t recall today whether or not I was in agreement with all of the analysis, but I don’t have a disagreement with the conclusions then reached by the department.” He says that the standard “does not represent the position of the executive branch” today. Author and torture expert Mark Danner calls the standard “appalling… even worse the second time through.” Gonzales was obviously prepped for this line of questioning, Danner says: “He sat in front of the committee and asserted things, frankly, that we know not to be true.… He was essentially unwilling to say definitively there were no situations in which Americans could legally torture prisoners.… [T]here’s an assumption behind [this performance] that we have the votes. We’re going to get through. I just have to give them nothing on which to hang some sort of a contrary argument.”
Equivicating on Techniques - Edward Kennedy (D-MA) questions Gonzales about what techniques are defined as torture, including “live burial” (see February 4-5, 2004) and waterboarding. Kennedy says that, according to media reports, Gonzales never objected to these or other techniques. Gonzales does not have a “specific recollection” of the discussions or whether the CIA ever asked him to help define what is and is not torture. He also says that in “this new kind of” war against “this new kind of enemy, we realized there was a premium on receiving information” the US needs to defeat terrorists. Agencies such as the CIA requested guidance as to “[w]hat is lawful conduct” because they did not “want to do anything that violates the law.” Kennedy asks if Gonzales ever suggested that the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) ever “lean forward on this issue about supporting the extreme uses of torture?” Gonzales focuses on Kennedy’s phrasing: “Sir, I don’t recall ever using the term sort of ‘leaning forward,’ in terms of stretching what the law is.” He refuses to admit giving any opinions or requesting any documents, but only wanted “to understand [the OLC’s] views about the interpretation” of torture. Danner notes that Justice Department officials have told reporters that Gonzales pushed for the expansive definition of torture in the memos, but Gonzales refuses to admit to any of that in the questioning.
Ignoring the Uniform Code of Military Justice - Lindsey Graham (R-SC) tells Gonzales that the Justice Department memo was “entirely wrong in its focus” because it excluded the Uniform Code Of Military Justice, and that it “put our troops at jeopardy.” Gonzales replies that he does not think that because of the memo the US has lost “the moral high ground” in the world. Danner says, “[Graham] is arguing that these steps weakened the United States, not only by putting troops at risk, but by undermining the US’s reputation in the world, undermining the ideological side of this war… Graham is saying very directly that by torturing, and by supplying images like that one, of… a hooded man, the man with the hood over his head and the wires coming out of his fingers and his genitals which is known far and wide in the Arab world in the Middle East it’s become highly recognizable by supplying that sort of ammunition, you’re giving very, very strong comfort and aid to the enemy in fact.” [Democracy Now!, 1/7/2005]
Entity Tags: Clarence Thomas, Arlen Specter, Alberto R. Gonzales, Central Intelligence Agency, Uniform Code of Military Justice, US Department of Justice, Mark Danner, Patrick J. Leahy, Joseph Biden, Bush administration (43), Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ)
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
The Senate Judiciary Committee brings in several experts to expand upon the testimony of attorney general nominee Alberto Gonzales (see January 6, 2005 and January 6, 2005). One of the most outspoken critics is Yale Law School dean Harold Koh. Koh had worked in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) under Ronald Reagan, and later served as assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor in the Clinton administration. He is a vocal critic of the Bush administration’s detention policies at Guantanamo and elsewhere. Koh had once worked closely with OLC lawyer John Yoo, the author of numerous torture memos (see October 4, 2001, November 6-10, 2001, November 20, 2001, December 21, 2001, December 28, 2001, January 9, 2002, January 11, 2002, January 14, 2002, January 22, 2002, January 24-26, 2002, March 13, 2002, July 22, 2002, August 1, 2002, August 1, 2002, and March 14, 2003) and opinions expanding the power of the president (see September 21, 2001, September 25, 2001, September 25, 2001, October 23, 2001, October 23, 2001, and June 27, 2002), but now, without explicitly mentioning Yoo by name, he repudiates his former student’s legal positions. Gonzales worked closely with Yoo to craft the administration’s positions on wiretapping, torture, the inherent power of the president, and other issues. “Having worked in both Democratic and Republican administrations, and for more than two years as an attorney in the Office of Legal Counsel, I am familiar with how legal opinions like this are sought and drafted,” Koh states. “I further sympathize with the tremendous pressures of time and crisis that government lawyers face while drafting such opinions. Nevertheless, in my professional opinion, the August 1, 2002 OLC memorandum [drafted by Yoo at Gonzales’s behest—see August 1, 2002] is perhaps the most clearly erroneous legal opinion I have ever read.” The August 1 memo, as well as other opinions by Yoo and Gonzales, “grossly overreads the inherent power of the president” as commander in chief, Koh testifies. The memos raise profound questions about the legal ethics of everyone involved—Gonzales, Yoo, and others in the Justice Department and White House. “If a client asks a lawyer how to break the law and escape liability, the lawyer’s ethical duty is to say no,” Koh testifies. “A lawyer has no obligation to aid, support, or justify the commission of an illegal act.” [Senate Judiciary Committee, 1/7/2005 ; Savage, 2007, pp. 211-212]
Justice Department lawyer Kyle Sampson (see 2001-2003) responds to an email from White House deputy counsel David Leitch regarding the proposed firing of some or all of the nation’s 93 US Attorneys (see January 6, 2005). Sampson confirms that he has spoken with White House counsel Alberto Gonzales about the proposal “a couple of weeks ago” (see Late December 2004). Sampson delineates his “thoughts” to Leitch in four points. He notes that while US Attorneys serve at the “pleasure of the president,” they generally serve four-year terms. (Sampson is aware that all 93 US Attorneys have been informed that they will not be asked to resign as President Bush’s second term commences—see November 4, 2004—and is also aware that Gonzales and White House deputy counsel Harriet Miers are discussing replacing some or all of the US Attorneys—see November 2004 and Late December 2004.) It would be “weird” to ask them to leave before their terms are complete. Sampson goes on to note the “historical” practice of allowing US Attorneys to complete their terms, even if there is a party change in the administration; he does not mention that the incoming 1992 Clinton administration, and the incoming 2000 Bush administration, both asked all or almost all 93 US Attorneys to leave without regard to completing their terms (see March 24, 1993 and January 2001). Sampson then writes that “as an operational matter, we would like to replace 15-20 percent of the current US Attorneys—the underperforming ones. (This is a rough guess; we might want to consider doing performance evaluations after Judge [Gonzales] comes on board.) The vast majority of US Attorneys, 80-85 percent, I would guess, are doing a great job, are loyal Bushies, etc., etc. Due to the history, it would certainly send ripples through the US Attorney community if we told folks that they got one term only (as a general matter, the Reagan US Attorneys appointed in 1981 stayed on through the entire Reagan administration; Bush 41 even had to establish that Reagan-appointed US Attorneys would not be permitted to continue on through the Bush 41 administration—indeed, even performance evaluations likely would create ripples, though this wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing).” Sampson predicts that “as a political matter… I suspect that when push comes to shove, home-state senators likely would resist wholesale (or even piecemeal) replacement of US Attorneys they recommended.” However, he writes, “if Karl [Rove, the White House political chief] thinks there would be policitical [sic] will to do it, then so do I.” [US Department of Justice, 1/9/2005 ; ABC News, 3/15/2007; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 7/7/2009 ; Talking Points Memo, 2011] The original email seems to come from another aide in the White House Counsel’s Office, Colin Newman, who told Leitch that Rove “stopped by to ask you (roughly quoting) ‘how we planned to proceed regarding US Attorneys, whether we were going to allow all to stay, request resignations from all and accept only some of them, or selectively replace them, etc.’ I told him that you would be on the hill all day for the judge’s hearing, and he said the matter was not urgent.” Leitch responded by forwarding the email to Sampson with the comment, “Let’s discuss.” [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2009 ] Newman’s email is dated January 6, and the reference to “the judge’s hearing” seems to refer to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales’s contentious hearing on the Geneva Conventions before the Senate Judiciary Committee on that date (see January 6, 2005).
Downplaying White House Involvement - In the 2008 investigation of the US Attorney firings by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General (see September 29, 2008), Leitch will say that he has no recollection of discussing the matter with Sampson, Rove, or anyone else. He will leave the White House Counsel’s Office shortly after this email exchange. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008] In 2009, Miers will testify that she does not recall specifics of these discussions. She will say: “I don’t have a recollection of that, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that happened, that would be some general discussion of, well, we have the Justice Department saying we have a certain number that we feel should be looked at and that that is better because it doesn’t create the upheaval that removing all of the US Attorneys would have. I think the original discussion did not involve the kind of plan, as that term has been used, that eventually evolved.” At this point, Miers will say, the idea of firing a large number of US Attorneys on the same day had not been discussed. The Justice Department, she will say, would make the decisions as to whom, if anyone, should be terminated, not the White House. Asked specifically about Rove’s Office of Political Affairs (OPA), she will say that it would merely play a consulting role in the process: “I did ask that they assist, in the areas where there might be removals, the location of sources for recommendations. And so the political office was as it is called; they had the political piece.” The Counsel’s Office would not ask OPA for recommendations of replacements for the ousted US Attorneys, she says: “We would turn to them for identification of the sources that you could go to and ask for people to be considered. You wouldn’t turn to them and say tell us who we ought to recommend.” However, “if they had a preference for, someone, they would state it so that they certainly had input.” [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2009 ] In 2009, Rove will deny ever seeing the email or discussing the matter with Sampson, and will say, “The implication that somehow this was addressed to me and I somehow received it is inaccurate.” [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 7/7/2009 ] Miers claims no memory of Rove ever attending a Judicial Selection Committee meeting to discuss the removal of a specific US Attorney. She will recall discussions of the removal of US Attorney David Iglesias (see October 18, 2001) by OPA members, including Rove. [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2009 ]
Entity Tags: Colin Newman, Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush administration (43), White House Counsel’s Office, White House Office of Political Affairs, Harriet E. Miers, D. Kyle Sampson, Karl C. Rove, Clinton administration, David Leitch, David C. Iglesias
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Attorney general nominee Alberto Gonzales turns in supplementary written answers to expand upon and clarify his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee (see January 6, 2005 and January 6, 2005). Buried in the documents is what reporter Charlie Savage will call “an explosive new disclosure.” Gonzales reveals that the Bush administration had secretly decided that the Convention against Torture, an international treaty, only has force on domestic soil, where the US Constitution applies. Noncitizens held overseas have no rights under the treaty, Bush lawyers concluded. Legal scholars from all sides of the political continuum denounce the administration’s position. Judge Abraham Sofaer, who negotiated the treaty for the Reagan administration, will write a letter to Congress informing it that President Reagan had never intended the treaty’s prohibition on torture and brutal treatment to apply only on US soil. However, the Bush administration stands by its position. [Savage, 2007, pp. 213]
A Bush family photo taken during the inaugural ceremonies. [Source: Cider Press Hill]President Bush is inaugurated for his second term. [White House, 1/20/2005] Author and media critic Frank Rich will observe that Bush’s inauguration is a four-day, $40 million media extravaganza designed to “enhance the White House’s portrayal of the war in Iraq.” The official theme is “Celebrating Freedom, Honoring Service.” Rich will write, “The trick for its production was to market the military effort while keeping all of its costs off-screen so that no unpleasantness or difficult questions… might spoil the party or Bush’s message of victory around the corner.” The ceremonies are ostensibly to honor the military men and women who have served the country, and are still serving, but during his inaugural address, Bush never says the word “Iraq.” The word is hardly mentioned at the lavish ball thrown for Bush’s Christian supporters at Washington’s Ritz-Carlton hotel. And the press, especially the network and cable outlets, cooperates, running breathless takes on the sumptuous festivities; Rich will write, “Television’s ceremonial coverage of the inauguration, much of which resembled the martial pageantry broadcast by state-owned networks in banana republics, dutifully parroted the White House message that the four-day bacchanal was a salute to the troops.” One of the few dissenters, Vanity Fair writer Judy Bachrach, observes on Fox News that the military ball and prayer service will not keep troops “safe and warm” in their “flimsy” Humvees in Iraq; after a commercial break, Bachrach is no longer on set. One particular “salute to the troops,” the “Heroes Red, White, and Blue Inaugural Ball,” is not televised, and rightly so, Rich will write, calling it “surreal.” Attendees include Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, and Fox News commentator Geraldo Rivera, who jokingly equates his status as “overpaid” reporter with “underpaid hero[es]” in battle. (The audience, largely made up of injured soldiers from Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Bethesda Naval Hospital, respond to Rivera’s humor with “deafening silence,” according to one Washington Post report.) Rich points out the irony of the evening’s main entertainment act, Nile Rodgers and Chic, who “sang the lyrics ‘Clap your hands, hoo!’ and ‘Dance to the beat’ to soldiers who had lost hands and legs.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 159-160]
Leading neoconservative Robert Kagan, speaking to the Los Angeles Times about the Bush administration’s foreign policies, says proudly: “This is real neoconservatism (see February 2, 2005). It would be hard to express it more clearly. If people were expecting Bush to rein in his ambitions and enthusiasms after the first term, they are discovering that they are wrong.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 327]
Criminal and civil environmental violations fall off sharply during the Bush administration’s first term. A study of internal Justice Department records obtained by the nonpartisan Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) shows that federal prosecutions of environmental crimes decline by 23 percent after President Bush takes office. Convictions for environmental violations are also fewer than in President Clinton’s second term, as are referrals to prosecutors by regulatory agencies. [Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, 9/19/2004] A separate study shows that civil lawsuits brought against polluters also fall dramatically during this period. In the first three years of the Bush administration, only nine suits to enforce the Clean Air Act are filed by the EPA, compared to 61 in the three years prior to Bush taking office. EPA litigation to enforce the Clean Water Act declines by over 39 percent over the same period. [Environmental Integrity Project, 10/12/2004] The study is compiled by Eric Schaeffer, the former director of the EPA Office of Regulatory Enforcement who resigns from his post in 2002 (see February 27, 2002)
James Guckert, a.k.a. ‘Jeff Gannon,’ being interviewed at the National Press Club in 2007. [Source: Crooks and Liars (.com)]A reporter calling himself Jeff Gannon asks a question of President Bush during a White House press conference: “Senate Democratic leaders have painted a very bleak picture of the US economy,” Gannon says. “[Minority Leader] Harry Reid was talking about soup lines, and Hillary Clinton was talking about the economy being on the verge of collapse. Yet, in the same breath, they say that Social Security is rock solid and there’s no crisis there. How are you going to work—you said you’re going to reach out to these people—how are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?” (Reid never mentioned soup lines; that reference comes from a satire of Reid by conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh.) In earlier conferences, Gannon attempted to link Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry to actress Jane Fonda, a favorite target of the right, and questioned why anyone would dispute Bush’s National Guard service record. [Boston Globe, 2/2/2005; Unger, 2007, pp. 332-333]
Works for Fake News Site - The Internet media watchdog site Media Matters, intrigued by Gannon’s highly partisan questions, soon learns that he works for an obscure news Web site called Talon News, itself a front for the extremist Internet organization GOPUSA (see January 28, 2005). New York Times media critic Frank Rich will call Talon News a fake news site staffed by Republican activists and filled with regurgitated press releases from the White House and the Republican National Committee. Rich will go on to note that Talon News is owned by a Texas delegate to the 2000 Republican presidential convention, and took part in an effort to falsely smear Kerry with allegations of infidelity. The Boston Globe soon reports of Gannon, “The Bush administration has provided White House media credentials to a man who has virtually no journalistic background, asks softball questions to the president and his spokesman in the midst of contentious news conferences, and routinely reprints long passages verbatim from official press releases as original news articles on his Web site.” (Gannon will call his practice of passing off quotes from the White House as objective news reports “the ultimate in journalistic honesty.”) Examination of press conference transcripts shows that White House press secretary Scott McClellan often calls on Gannon when other reporters begin asking difficult questions; Gannon is a reliable source of “softball” questions that allow McClellan to get back on track and resume issuing White House talking points.
Reporter Actually Male Prostitute - After Gannon becomes a figure of interest to media observers and Internet bloggers, they soon learn that he is really James Guckert, a male prostitute who posts nude pictures of himself on gay escort sites such as “hotmilitarystud.com” and numerous others, and charges $200 an hour (or $1,200 a weekend) for his services. [Boston Globe, 2/2/2005; Salon, 2/15/2005; Rich, 2006, pp. 172-173; Unger, 2007, pp. 332-333] Though McClellan will deny that the White House press staff knew anything of Gannon/Guckert’s false identity until just before the story broke in early February 2005, former Reagan official Bruce Bartlett will say that “if Gannon was using an alias, the White House staff had to be involved in maintaining his cover.” Further investigation will show that Gannon/Guckert has been posing as a reporter for two years. [Rich, 2006, pp. 172-173]
Regular Visits to White House on Days with No Briefings - According to White House logs, Gannon/Guckert has regularly visited the White House on days when no press conferences are being held, and on at least 12 occasions was checked in but not checked out. Gannon/Guckert’s visits raise speculation that he might have visited the White House for licentious purposes, though he will deny ever spending the night there for any reason. The Gannon/Guckert story highlights the existence of the so-called “Lavender Bund,” the cadre of closeted Republican gays who help the religious right and the GOP advance their openly anti-gay agendas. [Raw Story, 4/24/2005; CounterPunch, 5/21/2005]
Accusations of Plagiarism - Gannon/Guckert will also be accused of plagiarizing other journalists’ work, further calling into question his journalistic credentials. [Raw Story, 3/31/2005]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Frank Rich, GOPUSA, Bush administration (43), Bruce Bartlett, Boston Globe, Scott McClellan, Rush Limbaugh, Talon News, Media Matters, Republican National Committee, Jane Fonda, John Kerry, James Guckert, Lavender Bund, Hillary Clinton, Harry Reid
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Talon News logo. [Source: Talon News / AmericaBlog (.com)]Media Matters, the left-leaning media watchdog organization, questions White House reporter Jeff Gannon’s credentials as well as the legitimacy of the Internet news organization he works for, Talon News. Media Matters is as yet unaware that Gannon’s true name is James Guckert, and that he has no journalistic experience and his livelihood is apparently made by moonlighting as a gay prostitute (see January 26, 2005). The organization shows that several Gannon/Guckert pieces for Talon News are little more than what it calls “reprints of Republican and Bush administration releases,” and demonstrates that Gannon is a frequent “lifesaver” for White House press secretary Scott McClellan, who regularly calls on Gannon/Guckert when he needs a safe question to allow him to get back on track. Media Matters has found out more about Talon News itself; it reports that the information unearthed “casts additional doubt on Talon’s claim to be a media outlet and raises questions about whether Gannon/Guckert should be a credentialed member of the White House press corps.” Talon News is owned by Bobby Eberle, a Texas Republican Party operative who also owns the conservative Internet organization “GOPUSA,” which proclaims itself to be a “conservative news, information, and design company dedicated to promoting conservative ideals.” Though Eberle claims that GOPUSA and Talon News are separate organizations, in fact they are not. Eberle is the owner and chief operator of both entities. Both domain names—“TalonNews.com” and “GOPUSA.com”—are registered to the same Pearland, Texas, street address, which appears to be Eberle’s home address. The domain name contact is Eberle’s GOPUSA email address. Most of the articles on Talon News’s Web site consist of short introductory paragraphs with “Read more” links that take the reader to a page that announces, “This story can be found on our #1 client—GOPUSA!” Readers are then redirected to the GOPUSA.com site. GOPUSA and Talon News are both staffed by Eberle, Gannon/Guckert, and several volunteers. Media Matters concludes that the two organizations are “virtually indistinguishable.” Interestingly, both Eberle and Gannon/Guckert post on the right-wing Internet forum Free Republic, and Gannon/Guckert has hosted a radio show on Radio Free Republic. Another poster once suggested that McClellan “appreciated” Gannon/Guckert’s questions “from the smirk he was trying to hold back,” and Gannon/Guckert responded, “It’s hard to say with Scott but he usually knows what he’s going to get from me.” None of the other volunteers on Talon News seem to have any journalistic experience, but all are heavily involved in Republican politics, including a high school student who is president of his school’s Young Republicans’ Club; the owner of the Wisconsin Conservative Digest; a county GOP chairman and campaign manager for a Maine Republican candidate for the House of Representatives; a South Carolina GOP campaign operative; and a Nebraska freelance writer who has worked as a speechwriter for conservative candidates and organizations. Members of GOPUSA’s board of directors have no more journalistic experience than the writers of Talon News, but all are active GOP operatives, consultants, and financial managers. [Media Matters, 1/25/2005]
As part of the shakeup of the White House staff for President Bush’s second term, Karl Rove replaces Harriet Miers as deputy chief of staff for policy. Rove, widely viewed as an entirely political official, now has a role in coordinating domestic policy, economic policy, even homeland and national security. The Washington Post’s Peter Baker will soon observe: “During President Bush’s first term, outsiders often suspected that Karl Rove was really behind virtually everything. Now it’s official.… [T]he new position largely formalizes what was already true, noting that Rove has quietly played a vital role in shaping domestic policy from the inception of the Bush presidency. Now, for the first time, he will have a formal hand in foreign policy as well.” White House press secretary Scott McClellan will later write: “[Rove’s appointment] reconfirmed and strengthened the sense that the Bush administration was deeply committed to maintaining the permanent [political] campaign as normal operating procedure in Washington. Not only would governing continue to be an offshoot of campaigning, but the master campaigner would now be openly in charge of governing—thus discarding even the pretense of a separation between the two disciplines.” Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe says: “Empowering Rove in this way shows that Bush cares more about political positioning than honest policy discussions. Bush knows that Rove is neither an economic nor a national security expert; he’s simply an ideological strategist who has a history of bending the truth and using dirty tricks to get his way.” Rove’s predecessor, Office of Management and Budget chief Joshua Bolten, retorts: “Karl’s always been a very substantive contributor on the policy side. He’s better known for his political hat, but he knows how to take that hat off.” [Washington Post, 2/9/2005; McClellan, 2008, pp. 246-247]
Former White House counsel Alberto Gonzales is confirmed as attorney general by the Senate on a generally party-line vote of 60-36, one of the smallest margins of confirmation in Senate history. Gonzales’s confirmation hearings (see January 6, 2005 and January 6, 2005) have been the source of great controversy, with Senate Democrats accusing him of being deliberately evasive, obfuscutory (see January 17, 2005), and even obtuse during questioning, but with a solid Republican majority, Democrats have little ability to do anything to interfere with Gonzales’s ascension to power. [Savage, 2007, pp. 213] Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) explains his opposition to Gonzales: “What is at stake here is whether he has demonstrated to the Senate of the United States that he will discharge the duties of the office to which he’s been nominated, specifically whether he will enforce the Constitution and the laws of the United States and uphold the values upon which those laws are based. Regrettably, and disturbingly in my view, Alberto Gonzales has fallen short of meeting this most basic and fundamental standard.” Dodd adds that Gonzales “has endorsed, unfortunately, the position that torture can be permissible.” Fellow Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) adds: “At the very least Mr. Gonzales helped to create a permissive environment that made it more likely that abuses would take place. You could connect the dots from the administration’s legal memos to the Defense Department’s approval of abusive interrogation techniques for Guantanamo Bay to Iraq and Abu Ghraib.” Republicans are incredulous that Democrats would oppose Gonzales’s candidacy, and imply that their opposition is racially based. “Is it prejudice?” asks Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT). “Is it a belief that a Hispanic-American should never be in a position like this because he will be the first one ever in a position like this? Or is it because he’s constantly mentioned for the Supreme Court of the United States of America? Or is it that they just don’t like Judge Gonzales?” Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL) says: “This is a breakthrough of incredible magnitude for Hispanic-Americans and should not be diluted by partisan politics. Judge Gonzales is a role model for the next generation of Hispanic-Americans in this country.” [Fox News, 2/4/2005] When Gonzales is sworn in on February 14, President Bush will use the occasion to urge Congress to renew the controversial USA Patriot Act (see February 14, 2005). [Deseret News, 2/15/2005]
The Bush administration’s proposed fiscal year 2006 budget includes $20 million to help support research, planning, and design work related to efforts to restore Louisiana’s coastal wetlands. The budget would also provide $28 million for southeast Louisiana flood control projects. [White House website, 2/7/2005]
One of the photos Gannon/Guckert posted of himself on the Internet advertising his services as a male prostitute. [Source: The Fruit Fly (.com)]Conservative faux journalist and gay prostitute Jeff Gannon, whose real name is James Guckert, quits as a White House reporter following his exposure by media watchdog organization Media Matters and Internet bloggers. For years, Gannon/Guckert has functioned as a “safe” White House reporter for conservative Internet news site Talon News, providing “softball” questions to President Bush and his press secretaries and representatives that allow the White House to reiterate and emphasize its talking points (see January 26, 2005). He also resigns as a Talon correspondent. Gannon does not apologize for his flatly partisan questioning, and says his questions merely counterbalance those of other reporters, whom he says are largely liberal and hostile towards the Bush administration: “Perhaps the most disturbing thing has been the notion that there isn’t room for one conservative voice in the White House press corps.” Gannon/Guckert refuses to acknowledge his second vocation as a gay prostitute, which he pursues under his given name, and merely says his use of a pseudonym for his journalistic pursuits is a “very innocent… commercial consideration.” Besides, he says, many journalists change their names for broadcast purposes. He does not name any journalists who operate under such pseudonyms. [National Public Radio, 2/9/2005]
White House Knew of Pseudonym - Gannon/Guckert’s boss at Talon, Bobby Eberle (see January 28, 2005), says that the White House issued press passes to the “reporter” under his real name, which indicates the White House knew he was writing under a pseudonym. And Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), noting that Gannon/Guckert was denied Congressional press passes because he could not demonstrate that he worked for a legitimate news service, wants to know why Gannon/Guckert was able to pass muster at the White House. “This issue is important from an ethical as well as from a national security standpoint,” Lautenberg says. “It is hard to understand why a man with little real journalism experience was given a White House press corps credential.” [Salon, 2/15/2005] White House press secretary Scott McClellan denies knowing about Gannon/Guckert’s pseudonym until just recently, and says, “People use aliases all the time in life, from journalists to actors.” [Washington Post, 2/16/2005]
Admission and Defense - Days later, in a CNN interview conducted by Wolf Blitzer, Gannon/Guckert admits that he is a “former” gay prostitute, admits his real name, says no one at the White House knew about his sexual past, and says: “I’ve made mistakes in my past. Does my past mean I can’t have a future? Does it disqualify me from being a journalist?” He says he used a pseudonym because his real name is difficult to pronounce. Liberal gay activist John Aravosis, whose AmericaBlog first published pictures of Gannon/Guckert advertising his sexual favors on gay escort Web sites, says the issue is not Gannon/Guckert’s right to be a journalist but his “White House access.… The White House wouldn’t let him in the door right now, knowing of his background.” Aravosis says Gannon/Guckert is guilty of “what I call family values hypocrisy. Basically, he’s asking the gay community to protect him when he attacks us.” Gannon/Guckert wrote numerous articles blasting 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry’s support of gay rights and wrote that Kerry would, if elected, be the country’s “first gay president.” [Washington Post, 2/19/2005] On his blog, Aravosis adds: “This is the conservative Republican Bush White House we’re talking about. It’s looking increasingly like they made a decision to allow a hooker to ask the president of the United States questions. They made a decision to give a man with an alias and no journalistic experience access to the West Wing of the White House on a ‘daily basis.’” [Salon, 2/15/2005]
Softballing Gannon/Guckert - New York Times columnist Frank Rich accuses Blitzer of asking “questions almost as soft as those ‘Jeff’ himself had asked in the White House.” Blitzer accepted without question Gannon/Guckert’s assertion that he used the name Gannon because Guckert was too hard to pronounce, and never questioned Gannon/Guckert’s claim that Talon News “is a separate, independent news division” of GOPUSA. Blitzer, Rich notes, waited until a brief follow-up interview to ask why Gannon/Guckert was questioned by FBI investigators about his knowledge of the Valerie Plame Wilson affair (see October 28, 2003). Blitzer did not ask if his knowledge came from the same officials who took care of his White House press credentials, nor did he ask if Gannon/Guckert has any connection with conservative journalist and CNN commentator Robert Novak, who outed Plame Wilson. “The anchor didn’t go there,” Rich writes. [New York Times, 2/19/2005]
'Politics of Personal Destruction' - Gannon/Guckert will later say that his resignation from Talon News and from the White House press corps is an example of “the politics of personal destruction.” [New York Times, 3/20/2005]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Frank Rich, Frank R. Lautenberg, Wolf Blitzer, Valerie Plame Wilson, John Kerry, James Guckert, John Aravosis, Talon News, Bobby Eberle, Media Matters, Scott McClellan
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
North Korea announces it is suspending its participation in the ongoing talks over its nuclear program for what it calls an “indefinite period.” It blames the Bush administration’s efforts to “antagonize, isolate, and stifle [North Korea] at any cost.” North Korean officials also reiterate the claim that its nuclear weapons are intended for self-defense. [BBC, 12/2007]
A report by the 9/11 Commission on the FAA and 9/11 is publicly released. The fact that the report reveals nearly half of all FAA daily briefings between April and early September 2001 mentioned al-Qaeda, bin Laden, or both causes headlines (see April 1, 2001-September 10, 2001). However, the report was actually completed in August 2004 but was held up by the Bush administration. Some speculate that the publication of the report was delayed until after the November 2004 presidential election to help Bush get reelected. For instance, 9/11 victim’s relative Carol Ashley states, “I’m just appalled that this was withheld for five months. That contributes to the idea that the government knew something and didn’t act, it contributes to the conspiracy theories out there.” Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) asks for a hearing on whether the Bush administration played politics with the report’s release, but the Republican-controlled House of Representatives does not allow such a hearing. [Associated Press, 2/11/2005] Additionally, the released version of this report is heavily censored in some areas. The 9/11 Commission asserts that the whole report should be released, but the Bush administration is blocking their efforts to release the censored portions. Politicians, 9/11 victims’ relatives, open-government advocates, and others call for the release of the entire report, but to no avail. [New York Times, 2/11/2005]
John Negroponte. [Source: Public domain]President Bush nominates John Negroponte to be the first director of national intelligence, a new position created to oversee all the various US intelligence agencies. Negroponte has been serving as the US ambassador to Iraq for the previous year. Prior to that he had been the US ambassador to the United Nations and held a variety of other government positions. [New York Times, 2/17/2005] The nomination is controversial because, as the Los Angeles Times reports, “While ambassador to Honduras from 1981-85, Negroponte directed the secret arming of Nicaragua’s Contra rebels and is accused by human rights groups of overlooking—if not overseeing—a CIA-backed Honduran death squad during his tenure.” Additionally, “He also helped orchestrate a secret deal later known as Iran-Contra to send arms through Honduras to help the Contras overthrow the Sandinista government.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/26/2001] On April 21, 2005, the Senate will confirm Negroponte by a vote of 98 to two. In 2007, then-CIA analyst Valerie Plame Wilson will describe the establishment of a new position as a shocking blow to morale in the agency. Once Negroponte assumes the position, she will write, “the name ‘Central Intelligence Agency’ [becomes] a misnomer.” CIA employees were promised that the “new DNI structure would not be just an ‘extra bureaucratic layer’ over the CIA, but that’s exactly what it would become. It seemed to me that the White House was bent on emasculating the CIA by blaming it for the failures in Iraq and anything else they thought they could throw at the agency and have stick.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 219] She will write of the announcement: “I remember standing in counterproliferation division’s large conference room in early 2005 when the creation of the DNI was announced to the division workforce. Our chief swore that the DNI would not be just another layer of useless bureaucracy—everyone acknowledged that we already had plenty of that. The veterans of intelligence reorganizations past made cynical comments under their breath.” Plame Wilson will observe that the reorganization of the US intelligence community under the DNI will be “an abysmal failure.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 248]
Investigative reporters for CBS and other mainstream outlets find ties between faux journalist “Jeff Gannon” (see January 26, 2005) and White House political guru Karl Rove. Gannon, a conservative Internet “reporter” and gay male escort whose real name is James Guckert, says he only met Rove once, at a White House Christmas party. But the ties between Gannon/Guckert and Rove run much deeper. Circumstantial evidence includes the ease with which Gannon/Guckert obtained White House press corps day passes, and the fact that Rove has talked with the extremist Internet political organization GOPUSA, which owns Talon News. Gannon/Guckert formerly wrote for Talon. Both GOPUSA and Talon are owned by Bobby Eberle, a Texas Republican and business associate of conservative direct-mail guru Richard Viguerie. Bobby Eberle has boasted of Talon’s “conservative slant” and GOPUSA’s “instant built-in bias.” Gannon/Guckert also played a key role in the defeat of former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) in his 2004 bid to keep his Senate seat (see Summer 2003 - November 2004). CBS political editor Dotty Lynch calls Gannon/Guckert and Talon News “mini-Drudge Reports: a ‘news’ source which partisans use to put out negative information, get the attention of the bloggers, talk radio, and then the [mainstream media] in a way that mere press releases are unable to achieve.” [CBS News, 2/18/2005] Eberle has posted what author and media critic Frank Rich later calls “effusive thanks on the Web to both [talk show host G. Gordon] Liddy and Karl Rove ‘for their assistance, guidance, and friendship.’” [Rich, 2006, pp. 171]
Entity Tags: G. Gordon Liddy, Bush administration (43), Bobby Eberle, CBS News, Frank Rich, Karl C. Rove, Richard Viguerie, James Guckert, GOPUSA, Talon News, Tom Daschle, Dotty Lynch
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
US ambassador to New Delhi David Mulford informs India’s Oil Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar in a meeting that the Bush administration has reservations about Indian attempts to strike a deal with Iran on the long proposed $3-4 billion Iran-Pakistan-India gas-pipeline project (see 1993). According to the Indian Express, the meeting marks the first time the US has formally conveyed its concerns about the pipeline proposal. [Agence France-Presse, 3/10/2005; Dawn (Karachi), 3/11/2005; Voice of America, 3/17/2005]
Steven Bradbury, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), issues a finding that the government’s use of “video news releases” (VNRs—see March 15, 2004 and May 19, 2004) is not propaganda and therefore not illegal. The VNRs might be “covert,” he writes, since the government actively misled viewers as to their source, but they are not “propaganda,” since they merely explain government programs and facts, and do not espouse a political point of view. Because OLC opinions are legally binding, Bradbury’s “advisory opinion” effectively precludes White House and other agency officials from being prosecuted for authorizing the VNRs, and the practice continues. The General Accounting Office (GAO) rejects Bradbury’s finding and continues to insist that the VNRs are unethical and illegal. [Savage, 2007, pp. 172-173] Two months later, Congress will prohibit the government’s use of VNRs (see May 2005).
Abu Bakar Bashir. [Source: US National Counterterrorism Center]Abu Bakar Bashir, allegedly the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, al-Qaeda’s main affiliate in Southeast Asia, is acquitted of most charges in a trial in Indonesia. Bashir, a well-known radical imam, had been accused of involvement in the 2002 Bali bombings (see October 12, 2002) and 2003 Marriott Hotel bombing (see August 5, 2003). However, he is only convicted of one charge of criminal conspiracy, because the judges say he knew the bombers and his words may have encouraged them. Bashir is sentenced to 30 months in prison, but is released after serving only one year due to good behavior. In late 2006, the Indonesian supreme court will void his one conviction altogther. [New York Times, 3/4/2005; Associated Press, 12/26/2006] The New York Times will later report: “Legal observers here said the case against Mr. Bashir was weak. The strongest evidence linking him to the Bali terrorist attacks was never heard by the five-judge panel because of a decision by the Bush administration that the Indonesian government would not be allowed to interview two senior al-Qaeda operatives, Riudan Isamuddin, better known as Hambali, and Omar al-Faruq.” The CIA has been holding Hambali and al-Faruq in secret prisons since 2003 and 2002 respectively (see August 12, 2003 and June 5, 2002). [New York Times, 6/14/2006] One Indonesian counterterrorism official says: “We need[ed] Hambali very much. We [fought] to get access to him, but we have failed.” An unnamed Australian official complains that the US was hypocritical in pressing Indonesia to prosecute Bashir and then doing nothing to help convict him. [New York Times, 3/4/2005] Al-Faruq allegedly told the CIA that Bashir had provided logistical and financial support for several terrorist attacks, but he was also interrogated by techniques considered close to torture. The US allowed Indonesian officials to directly interrogate al-Faruq in 2002, but then prohibited any later access to him (see June 5, 2002). And shortly after Hambali’s arrest in 2003, President Bush promised to allow Hambali to be tried in Indonesia, but then failed to even give Indonesians any access to him (see October 23, 2003).
The Seattle Times reports that Washington State Democrats believe the White House is behind the efforts to force a recount in the November 2004 governor’s race. Christine Gregoire (D-WI) defeated Dino Rossi (R-WI) after a recount gave Gregoire a narrow victory (see December 23, 2004 - January 12, 2005). Since then Rossi and Washington State Republicans have demanded new recounts or even a new election (see December 29-30, 2004). In January 2005, they filed a lawsuit to overturn the election results, alleging voter fraud tainted the vote (see January 7, 2005, January 24-28, 2005, and February 4, 2005). The FBI and US Attorney John McKay have investigated the allegations of voter fraud and found them groundless (see December 2004 and January 4, 2005), though state Republicans have been displeased with those findings (see Late 2004 or Early 2005, Late 2004, and January 4, 2005). As the lawsuit wends its way through the courts, Democrats tell reporters that the evidence being brought to bear by state Republicans in the lawsuit is worthless. One party attorney says their list of alleged illegal voters would end up as toilet paper “in an outhouse on Blewett Pass” on the mountain highway route that leads to the Chelan County courthouse, where the case will be heard. However, solicitations sent by Washington State Democratic Party chairman Paul Berendt say the White House, led by deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, is pushing the GOP lawsuit. Berendt’s letter warns of “guerrilla tactics” by “right-wing attorneys” and “extremist operatives” who are “meticulously crafting a case to unseat Christine Gregoire.” Berendt stands behind the letter, saying: “[W]e believe this, too. We believe that Rove is in regular contact with people here.” Rossi spokesperson Mary Lane confirms that the Rossi campaign is regularly updating the White House on the case, saying: “They’re interested in what’s going on.… We talk to them about it.” However, “[t]here’s certainly no Karl Rove pulling strings.” White House spokesperson Ken Lisaius says no one in the Bush administration is involved in the lawsuit, telling a reporter: “As reluctant as I am to comment on an inflammatory fund-raising piece, those are just not the facts. The White House is not directing any sort of strategy for the Rossi campaign and to suggest otherwise is to suggest someone is not very well informed.” Berendt points to the Rossi campaign’s use of Washington, DC, attorney Mark Braden as chief counsel; Braden spent 10 years as chief counsel to the Republican National Committee. Berendt says his party uses local attorneys. He also cites Rove’s 1994 involvement in the case of an Alabama state Supreme Court election, in which Rove fought for a recount claiming that the election had been “stolen.” The Times writes: “There are parallels to the current dispute here over the governor’s election. In both cases, Republicans held a news conference with the parents of a military voter to question whether overseas ballots were handled properly. Republicans in both states filed a lawsuit that named a long list of public officials as respondents. Both held rallies; business groups financed media campaigns.” Rove’s candidate eventually won (see Early 1994 - October 1995). Berendt says that Rove was also behind failed attempts to force recalls of Republican Secretary of State Sam Reed and Democratic King County Councilman Dow Constantine. Berendt writes, “We know what they’re doing, and we’re going to tell the world that it’s the Bush team, with the Bush tactics, and Karl Rove pulling the strings that’s trying to defeat us.” [Seattle Times, 3/5/2005]
Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, Dino Rossi, Christine O. Gregoire, Bush administration (43), Dow Constantine, John L. McKay, Mark Braden, Mary Lane, Seattle Times, Paul Berendt, Sam Reed, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ken Lisaius
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2004 Elections
Stations such as Los Angeles’s KABC-TV routinely re-edit graphics to fit their own formatting. The graphic on the left was part of a VNR produced by a private firm; on the right is KABC’s edited graphic. [Source: PRWatch (.org)] (click image to enlarge)An investigation by the New York Times reveals that the government’s use of “video news releases,” or so-called “fake news” reports provided by the government and presented to television news viewers as real news (see March 15, 2004), has been used by far more government agencies than previously reported. The Times report finds that VNRs from the State Department, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the Agriculture Department are among the agencies providing VNRs to local television news broadcasters. Previous media reports focused largely on the VNRs provided by the Department of Health and Human Services to tout the Bush administration’s Medicare proposals. The Times finds that “at least 20 federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Census Bureau, have made and distributed hundreds of television news segments in the past four years.… Many were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgement of the government’s role in their production.… [T]he [Bush] administration’s efforts to generate positive news coverage have been considerably more pervasive than previously known. At the same time, records and interviews suggest widespread complicity or negligence by television stations, given industry ethics standards that discourage the broadcast of prepackaged news segments from any outside group without revealing the source.”
VNRs Presented as Actual News - While government VNRs are generally labeled as being government productions on the film canister or video label, the VNRs themselves are designed, the Times writes, “to fit seamlessly into the typical local news broadcast. In most cases, the ‘reporters’ are careful not to state in the segment that they work for the government. Their reports generally avoid overt ideological appeals. Instead, the government’s news-making apparatus has produced a quiet drumbeat of broadcasts describing a vigilant and compassionate administration.” The VNRs often feature highly choreographed “interviews” with senior administration officials, “in which questions are scripted and answers rehearsed. Critics, though, are excluded, as are any hints of mismanagement, waste or controversy.”
Benefits to All except News Consumers - The Times explains how VNRs benefit the Bush administration, private public relations firms, networks, and local broadcasters: “Local affiliates are spared the expense of digging up original material. Public relations firms secure government contracts worth millions of dollars. The major networks, which help distribute the releases, collect fees from the government agencies that produce segments and the affiliates that show them. The administration, meanwhile, gets out an unfiltered message, delivered in the guise of traditional reporting.” News viewers, however, receive propaganda messages masquerading as real, supposedly impartial news reports.
Ducking Responsibility - Administration officials deny any responsibility for the use of VNRs as “real” news. “Talk to the television stations that ran it without attribution,” says William Pierce, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services. “This is not our problem. We can’t be held responsible for their actions.” But the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has disagreed, calling the use of government-produced VNRs “covert propaganda” because news viewers do not know that the segments they are watching are government productions (see May 19, 2004). However, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Justice Department (see March 2005) have called the practice legal, and instructed executive branch agencies to merely ignore the GAO findings.
Creative Editing - The Times gives an example of how seamlessly government-produced propaganda can be transformed into seemingly real news segments. In one segment recently provided by the Agriculture Department, the agency’s narrator ends the segment by saying, “In Princess Anne, Maryland, I’m Pat O’Leary reporting for the US Department of Agriculture.” The segment is distributed by AgDay, a syndicated farm news program shown on some 160 stations; the segment is introduced as being by “AgDay’s Pat O’Leary.” The final sentence was edited to state: “In Princess Anne, Maryland, I’m Pat O’Leary reporting.” Final result: viewers are unaware that the AgDay segment is actually an Agriculture Department production. AgDay executive producer Brian Conrady defends the practice: “We can clip ‘Department of Agriculture’ at our choosing. The material we get from the [agency], if we choose to air it and how we choose to air it is our choice.” The public relations industry agrees with Conrady; many large PR firms produce VNRs both for government and corporate use, and the Public Relations Society of America gives an annual award, the Bronze Anvil, for the year’s best VNR.
Complicity by News Broadcasters - Several major television networks help distribute VNRs. Fox News has a contract with PR firm Medialink to distribute VNRs to 130 affiliates through its video feed service, Fox News Edge. CNN distributes VNRs to 750 stations in the US and Canada through its feed service, CNN Newsource. The Associated Press’s television news distributor does the same with its Global Video Wire. Fox News Edge director David Winstrom says: “We look at them and determine whether we want them to be on the feed. If I got one that said tobacco cures cancer or something like that, I would kill it.” TVA Productions, a VNR producer and distributor, says in a sales pitch to potential clients, “No TV news organization has the resources in labor, time or funds to cover every worthy story.” Almost “90 percent of TV newsrooms now rely on video news releases,” it claims. The reach can be enormous. Government-produced VNRs from the Office of National Drug Control Policy reached some 22 million households over 300 news stations. And news stations often re-record the voiceover of VNRs by their own reporters, adding to the illusion that their own reporters, and not government or PR employees, are doing the actual reporting.
Office of Broadcasting Services - The State Department’s Office of Broadcasting Services (OBS) employs around 30 editors and technicians, who before 2002 primarily distributed video from news conferences. But in early 2002, the OBS began working with close White House supervision to produce narrated feature reports promoting American policies and achievements in Afghanistan and Iraq, and supporting the Bush administration’s rationale for invading those countries. Between 2002 and now, the State Department has produced 59 such segments, which were distributed to hundreds of domestic and international television broadcasters. The State Department says that US laws prohibiting the domestic dissemination of propaganda don’t apply to the OBS. Besides, says State Department spokesman Richard Boucher: “Our goal is to put out facts and the truth. We’re not a propaganda agency.” State Department official Patricia Harrison told Congress last year that such “good news” segments are “powerful strategic tools” for influencing public opinion. The Times reports that “a review of the department’s segments reveals a body of work in sync with the political objectives set forth by the White House communications team after 9/11.” One June 2003 VNR produced by the OBS depicts US efforts to distribute food and water to the people of southern Iraq. The unidentified narrator condluded, “After living for decades in fear, they are now receiving assistance—and building trust—with their coalition liberators.” OBS produced several segments about the liberation of Afghan women; a January 2003 memo called the segments “prime example[s]” of how “White House-led efforts could facilitate strategic, proactive communications in the war on terror.” OBS typically distributes VNRs through international news organizations such as Reuters and the Associated Press, which then distribute them to major US networks, which in turn transmit them to local affiliates.
The Pentagon Channel and 'Hometown News' - In 2004, the Defense Department began providing The Pentagon Channel, formerly an in-house service, to cable and satellite operators in the US. The content is provided by Pentagon public relations specialists who produce “news reports” identical to those produced by local and national news broadcasters. And the content is free. The Pentagon Channel’s content is supplemented by the Army and Air Force Hometown News Service (HNS), a 40-man unit that produces VNRs for local broadcasters focusing on the accomplishments of “hometown” soldiers. Deputy director Larry Gilliam says of the service, “We’re the ‘good news’ people.” Their reports, tailored for specific local stations, reached 41 million households in 2004. But the service’s VNRs sometimes go beyond celebrating a hometown hero. Weeks after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, HNS released a VNR that lauded the training of military policemen at Missouri’s Fort Leonard Wood, where many of the MPs involved in the scandal were trained. “One of the most important lessons they learn is to treat prisoners strictly but fairly,” the “reporter” in the segment says. A trainer tells the narrator that MPs are taught to “treat others as they would want to be treated.” Gilliam says the MP report had nothing to do with the Pentagon’s desire to defend itself from accusations of mistreatment and prisoner abuse. “Are you saying that the Pentagon called down and said, ‘We need some good publicity?’” Gilliam asks the Times reporter. He answers his own question, “No, not at all.” [New York Times, 3/13/2005]
Congress Bans Use of Government VNRs - Two months after the Times article is published, Congress will ban the use of government VNRs for propaganda purposes (see May 2005).
Entity Tags: Brian Conrady, Transportation Security Administration, Richard A. Boucher, Reuters, Associated Press, US Department of Agriculture, US Department of Defense, US Department of Health and Human Services, AgDay, Army and Air Force Hometown News Service, William Pierce, US Department of Justice, US Department of State, Pentagon Channel, US Census Bureau, Pat O’Leary, David Winstrom, Fort Leonard Wood, Patricia Harrison, Bush administration (43), CNN, Fox News, Public Relations Society of America, Larry Gilliam, Office of Management and Budget, Office of National Drug Control Policy, Office of Broadcasting Services, Government Accountability Office, Medialink, New York Times
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
The Bush administration appoints veteran Bush adviser Karen Hughes as the undersecretary of state for public diplomacy. Her main job will be to craft an administration marketing and public relations policy that will reach out to the Islamic and Arab worlds, and to convince Muslims and Arabs that the US is indeed their friend (see August 2002). But Hughes is immediately granted six months of personal leave before facing Senate confirmation in the fall. And Hughes’s staff will include no Muslims. As a result, a high-level US official warns that “the gap between rhetoric and reality” will undermine the US’s credibility in its outreach program. Hughes’s deputy, Dina Powell, is not expected to take her position until at least May. The new initiative is at least partially sparked due to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report criticizing the administration for failing to develop a policy to improve the US image in the rest of the world. “[R]ecent polling data show that anti-Americanism is spreading and deepening around the world,” the report finds. “Such anti-American sentiments can increase foreign public support for terrorism directed at Americans, impact the cost and effectiveness of military operations, weaken the United States’ ability to align with other nations in pursuit of common policy objectives, and dampen foreign publics’ enthusiasm for US business services and products.” Another US official says the dearth of Muslims in the administration is worrisome. (Powell is Egyptian-American, but is a Christian, not a Muslim. The few officials of Arab descent in the Bush administration are, by and large, Christians.) “It’s very important for American Muslims to be involved, as they’re an important conduit to the wider Islamic world and they should be speaking out,” that official says. “But American Muslims generally feel they’re not included like other communities. We should be talking to them, as they have a lot of knowledge of the region.” Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says, “You can do Muslim outreach without Muslims and it doesn’t mean Dina Powell can’t be effective, but the administration has not made much effort to integrate Muslim Americans in this effort.” Carothers says many in the administration confuse public diplomacy with marketing. “There’s deep confusion within the administration about what public diplomacy means,” he says. “For some, it’s simply selling America’s image in the world. For others, it’s something deeper that has to do with creating a partnership between America and Muslim countries to replace the current antagonism.… The administration is convinced that if only the Muslim world understood us better they’d like us more, whereas many Muslims feel it’s precisely because they understand us that they’re unhappy.” [Washington Post, 4/18/2005; Rich, 2006, pp. 165]
Timothy Griffin, after being elected as a US representative in 2010. [Source: Politico]Timothy Griffin, a former Republican National Committee aide and a veteran Republican political operative (see October 26, 2004), learns that Kyle Sampson, deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see February 15, 2005), has identified the US Attorney for Eastern Arkansas, Bud Cummins, as one of several US Attorneys who should be fired (see January 9, 2005 and March 2, 2005). Griffin, a lawyer who has twice attempted to secure that position for himself, learns of the news from Sara Taylor, the White House’s new director of political affairs (replacing Karl Rove, who still supervises all political issues from his new position as deputy chief of staff—see Late January 2005). Griffin is considering joining Taylor’s staff, but even before his hiring, he attends several “directors” meetings at the White House. After one of these meetings, Taylor shows him the list of US Attorneys slated for dismissal. The list includes Cummins. Taylor says she does not know why Cummins is on the list, but she believes it may be because he lost his sponsor, Senator Tim Hutchinson (R-AR), when Hutchinson lost his bid for re-election in 2002. Griffin joins Taylor’s staff, and shortly thereafter meets with White House counsel Harriet Miers, who also tells him that the White House is planning to fire Cummins. She asks Griffin if he is interested in the position, and he says he would like the job after completing a stint in the White House. Miers warns him that it might be difficult to have him approved for the position after having worked for the White House Office of Political Affairs. Miers, Rove, and Taylor discuss Griffin’s employment options through the rest of March. Miers tells Rove that she has considered making Griffin a political appointee in one of the two US Attorneys’ offices in Arkansas, or perhaps having Griffin replace the deputy director of the Office of Legal Policy at the Justice Department. Rove responds, “What about him for the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas?” Miers replies that such a move is “definitely a possibility” because the current US Attorney, Cummins, is going to be replaced. Miers tells Rove that Griffin has spoken with her about his desire for the slot, but for now he wants to stay with the White House. Taylor responds to the exchange by saying in part, “My fear is they end up putting him [Griffin] at Justice (which he does not want to do); it’s a year before he’s made US Attorney, if ever.” In another email, Taylor writes to Rove that Griffin “would love to be US Attorney—he’d love to come here in the meantime.” Griffin accepts the position of deputy director of political affairs at the White House, promising Taylor that he will stay in the position at least after the November 2006 election unless the US Attorney position opens up before then. For his part, Cummins, who is toying with the idea of leaving the position, speaks with Griffin periodically throughout the year about Griffin taking the position after Cummins resigns. Cummins will later say that he always assumed the choice as to if and when to resign would be his, and that he always assumed Griffin would get the job because he is so well connected politically. Griffin later says he never pushed Cummins to leave, but will tell Justice Department investigators (see September 29, 2008), “I was laying low.” Griffin will say that to his mind, Cummins’s removal and his own ascension to the post were two separate things. “I didn’t know why he was being fired,” Griffin will say, “but I knew that if he was going to be fired, then I wanted to be considered for that job.” Griffin, a member of the Army Reserve, will leave his White House position in August 2005 to serve as a Judge Advocate General officer in Iraq, and will stay in close contact with officials in both the White House and the Justice Department throughout his yearlong tour of duty. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]
Entity Tags: Harriet E. Miers, Bush administration (43), White House Office of Political Affairs, H.E. (“Bud”) Cummins III, US Department of Justice, Sara Taylor, J. Timothy Griffin, Karl C. Rove, Republican National Committee, D. Kyle Sampson, Tim Hutchinson
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
New Mexico residents who wish to attend a public relations event featuring President Bush are quizzed about their support of Bush’s policies before being given a ticket to the event. Staff members for Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) interrogate prospective attendees about their feelings towards Bush and his Social Security policies. David Alire Garcia of the Albuquerque Journal writes: “Welcome to the brave new world of over-the-top media manipulation. No critical questions, no spontaneity, nothing left to chance.” Domenici spokeswoman Shaye O’Donnell says that Democrats or others who might not support the president are still given tickets, though she later admits that she herself knows nothing about how tickets are distributed. Neither does Lisa Breeden, Domenici’s communications director, who says: “I really don’t know anything about this. If that happened, it was not done by our office. That would have had to have been through the White House, I guess.” According to Breeden, people who called the office asking for tickets were asked for names and phone numbers, and that information was passed to the White House advance team. The White House team then gave Domenici’s office a list of those who would be allowed to receive tickets. Breeden says a private political consultant handled the communications between the White House and Domenici’s office. [Washington Post, 4/4/2005]
Dr. Michael Gelles, the head psychologist for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), says that torture and coercion do not produce reliable information from prisoners. Gelles adds that many military and intelligence specialists share his view. Gelles warned of problems with torture and abuse at Guantanamo nearly three years ago (see Early December, 2002 and December 18, 2002). And he is frustrated that Bush administration officials have “dismissed” critics of coercive techniques as weaklings and “doves” who are too squeamish to do what is necessary to obtain information from terror suspects. In reality, Gelles says, many experienced interrogators are convinced that torture and coercion do more harm than good. Gelles has extensive experience with interrogations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo, and notes that NCIS had interrogated Muslim terror suspects well before 9/11, including investigations into the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000) and the 1983 bombing of a Marine barracks in Lebanon (see April 18-October 23, 1983).
'Rapport-Building' - The best way to extract reliable intelligence from a Muslim extremist, Gelles says, is through “rapport-building”—by engaging the suspect in conversations that play on his cultural sensitivities. Similar techniques worked on Japanese soldiers during the height of battles during World War II (see July 17, 1943). Gelles says he and others have identified patterns of questioning that can elicit accurate information from Islamist radicals, but refuses to discuss them specifically. “We do not believe—not just myself, but others who have to remain unnamed—that coercive methods with this adversary are… effective,” he says. “If the goal is to get ‘information,’ then using coercive techniques may be effective. But if the goal is to get reliable and accurate information, looking at this adversary, rapport-building is the best approach.”
Conflict between Experts, Pentagon Civilians - Gelles describes a sharp division between interrogation specialists such as himself, and civilian policymakers at the Pentagon. Many government specialists, including fellow psychologists, intelligence analysts, linguists, and interrogators who have experience extracting information from captured Islamist militants, agree with Gelles that coercion is not effective, but top civilians in the Office of the Secretary of Defense disagree. Coercive interrogations try to “vacuum up all the information you can and figure out later” what is true and what is not, he says. This method jams the system with false and misleading data. Gelles compares it to “coercive tactics leading to false confessions” by suspects in police custody. Many at the Pentagon and elsewhere mistake “rapport-building” techniques for softness or weakness. Just because those interrogations are not humiliating or physically painful, Gelles says, the techniques are not necessarily “soft.” Telling a detainee that he is a reprehensible murderer of innocents is perfectly acceptable, Gelles says: “Being respectful doesn’t mean you don’t confront, clarify, and challenge the detainee when he gives the appearance of being deceptive.” On the other hand, coercive techniques induce detainees to say anything to make the pain and discomfort stop. “Why would you terrify them with a dog?” Gelles asks, referring to one technique of threatening detainees with police dogs. “So they’ll tell you anything to get the dog out of the room?” Referring to shackling prisoners in “stress positions” for hours on end, Gelles adds: “I know there is a school of thought that believes [stress positions] are effective. In my experience, I’ve never seen it be of any value.” Innocent suspects will confess to imagined crimes just to stop the abuse, Gelles says.
Other Harmful Consequences - Gelles also notes that coercive techniques undermine the possibility of building rapport with the prisoner to possibly gain information from him. And, he says, unless the prisoner is either killed in custody or detained for life, eventually he will be released to tell the world of his captivity, damaging America’s credibility and moral authority. [Boston Globe, 3/31/2005; Savage, 2007, pp. 217-218]
The Bush administration’s chief envoy to Southeast Asia, Christopher Hill, finally manages to make some progress in the ongoing six-way talks over North Korea’s nuclear program (see August 2003), largely by evading and ducking Bush administration restrictions on his negotiations. Hill is under orders not to open two-party talks with North Korea unless the North agrees to make significant concessions. (In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will observe, “Perversely, the Bush administration was offering negotiations in exchange for changed behavior, rather than using negotiations to change behavior; they had reversed the standard cause and effect of diplomacy.”) Hill persuades the North Koreans to return to the talks by arranging a dinner in Beijing for him and his North Korean counterpart, Li Gun. The Chinese hosts “fail” to show up, and Hill is left to dine with Gun alone. The North Koreans, happy with this “bilateral negotiation,” agree to rejoin the talks. Hill is unaware that Bush administration conservatives are planning to scuttle the negotiations (see September 19-20, 2005). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 244] The talks will officially reopen on July 25, 2005. [BBC, 12/2007]
Asian News International reports that according to official Pakistani sources the US government is reconsidering its opposition to the $4.2 billion dollar Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline (see 1993). The Bush administration has been opposed to the proposed pipeline on grounds that it would help Iran, a potential target of future US military strikes. But since the consortium is hoping to involve US corporations, these companies are apparently putting pressure on the White House to back the pipeline. Without the approval of the US government, the companies would be barred from participating in the pipeline’s construction. According to sources, the US is considering pursuing a strategy that would leverage its possible support for the pipeline against Iran in its disagreement over the country’s nuclear program. [News (Islamabad), 4/2/2005]
The White House attempts to explain the apparently illegal refusal to allow citizens who may disagree with President Bush to attend his rallies and public events (see February 3, 2005, March 22, 2005, and March 21, 2005) by alleging that bands of liberal protesters are conspiring to disrupt those events. “There is an active campaign underway to try and disrupt and disturb his events in hopes of undermining his objective of fixing Social Security,” says White House spokesman Trent Duffy, referring to Bush’s recent swing through the US to whip up public support for his plans to privatize Social Security. “If there is evidence there are people planning to disrupt the president at an event, then they have the right to exclude those people from those events.” Others disagree. Representative Marilyn Musgrove (R-CO) says through a spokesman: “He is the president, and regardless of affiliation, everybody should have the opportunity to go and see the president. It shouldn’t be the job of anybody to make sure the crowd is 100 percent sympathetic.” White House officials counter that all they are doing is attempting to prevent threats and disruptions. If they believe an individual will attempt to disrupt an event, they say, they will have that person removed before anything occurs. Linda Coates, a Fargo, North Dakota city commissioner who was prevented from attending a February Bush rally when her name turned up on a “blacklist” maintained by the White House, says the Bush administration is going far beyond protecting Bush from hecklers and security threats. “These events are clearly so carefully crafted that they can’t be considered ‘open forums’ anyway,” Coates says. “They are pep rallies. This is a new thing in terms of having an administration that tries to have absolute tight control on public perception of events and of reality.” American Enterprise Institute political analyst John Fortier says the tightly controlled events are part of the Bush administration’s “permanent campaign.” He adds: “I don’t know if it is working, but I don’t fault it too much that these rallies aren’t open forums for debate. When the president goes out to the country, it’s meant to be on his turf.” Diana DeGette (D-CO) says that the strategy isn’t working. “In politics, the best way to win support for a controversial policy is to sell it to people who are still undecided,” she says. “It appears that this White House has so little confidence in the president’s Social Security privatization plan, however, that administration officials are not allowing even undecided Americans into the president’s events.” Duffy denies that Democrats or other possible Bush critics are denied access to Bush’s rallies and events, but refuses to give details about how citizens are screened or chosen to ask questions of Bush during these events. Duffy does say: “There are steps being taken to ensure the president has a degree of order at these events. I think the president of the United States deserves to have a level of respect when he holds town meetings or any other forum.” In previous events, prospective attendees were:
turned away for wearing T-shirts supporting Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry;
pressured to volunteer for the 2004 Bush presidential campaign;
told to fill out questionnaires asking for names, addresses, Social Security numbers, and pledges of support for the president;
preemptively banned due to membership of Democratic organizations;
and quizzed as to their support for Bush and his policies.
Mark Udall (D-CO) says through a spokesman: “The president would be better served if he were to listen to dissenting views at these town hall meetings. It would probably help him make the changes he needed to better his policy on Social Security.” [Fox News, 4/22/2005]
While Christopher Hill, the Bush administration’s new chief envoy to Southeast Asia, is overseas trying to shore up relations with North Korea, President Bush undermines Hill by publicly insulting North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il. Kim “is a dangerous person,” Bush says. “He’s a man who starves his people. He’s got huge concentration camps. And… there is concern about his capacity to deliver a nuclear weapon. We don’t know if he can or not, but I think it’s best, when you’re dealing with a tyrant like Kim Jong Il, to assume he can.” In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will note that while Bush’s allegations against Kim are largely true, to publicly insult him is to make it that much more difficult to persuade the dictator to give up his nuclear weapons (see August 2003). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 243]
FBI documents show that an unnamed political group supplies what it considers to be evidence of voter fraud—the forging of signatures on provisional ballots—to the office of US Attorney John McKay of the Western District of Washington. The group may be the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW), headed by Republican activist Tom McCabe, who has pressured McKay to pursue previous allegations of voter fraud in the recent gubernatorial election (see December 2004), evidence that was found to be groundless (see January 4, 2005). McCabe has already demanded that the White House fire McKay and replace him with someone friendlier to Republican interests (see Late 2004). McKay has received pressure on the voter fraud issue from several state Republicans aside from McCabe (see Late 2004 or Early 2005 and January 4, 2005). An Assistant US Attorney in McKay’s office will later confirm that even if the affidavits had been forged, the US Attorney’s office had no jurisdiction over the matter, as the allegations are about a state election and the US Attorney is a federal entity. The group later supplies the evidence to the Republican petitioners in a state case about the election, and its lawyers choose not to pursue the evidence, as the handwriting analysis “proving” the forgeries will be found to be unreliable. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]
Newsweek prints an item in its “Periscope” section that reports an American guard at Guantanamo Bay flushed a detainee’s Koran down a toilet. According to the report, the US Southern Command intends to mount an investigation into the desecration, which violates US and international laws. The report sparks widespread rioting in Pakistan and Afghanistan that results in the deaths of at least 17 people. The Pentagon and the Bush administration immediately blame Newsweek for the riots and the deaths; Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, the senior commander of US forces in Afghanistan, says the report did not spark the Afghan rioting, as does Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Newsweek says the information came from an American official who remains unidentified. “We regret that we got any part of our story wrong, and extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and to the US soldiers caught in its midst,” Mark Whitaker, Newsweek’s editor, writes in a subsequent article. Whitaker adds: “We’re not retracting anything. We don’t know what the ultimate facts are.” The Pentagon denies the report; spokesman Bryan Whitman says: “Newsweek hid behind anonymous sources, which by their own admission do not withstand scrutiny. Unfortunately, they cannot retract the damage they have done to this nation or those that were viciously attacked by those false allegations.” The report is “demonstrably false” and “irresponsible.” Whitman says the report has “had significant consequences that reverberated throughout Muslim communities around the world.” Senior Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita calls Whitaker’s note “very tepid and qualified.… They owe us all a lot more accountability than they took.” White House press secretary Scott McClellan says, “Our United States military personnel go out of their way to make sure that the Holy Koran is treated with care.” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says Newsweek is wrong to use “facts that have not been substantiated.” And Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld issues the admonishment, “[P]eople need to be careful what they say… just as people need to be careful what they do.” According to Whitaker, while the magazine tries to avoid using unnamed sources when it can, there are instances where sources will not speak to reporters unless their anonymity is guaranteed. The administration source has been reliable in the past, Whitaker says, and, moreover, the reporters of the story, Michael Isikoff and John Barry, received confirmation from both the source and a senior Pentagon official. Whitaker’s explanation notes that Newsweek has chosen not to publish previous reports of Koran desecration at Guantanamo because the sources are former detainees whom it considers unreliable. General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says that guards and officials at Guantanamo have looked for documentation of the reported Koran-flushing and cannot find it. [New York Times, 5/16/2005; Rich, 2006, pp. 164] The Pentagon will conclude that the Newsweek report is indeed responsible for the riots; Isikoff and Barry’s source for the story will back off on his original claim (see May 15, 2005). A month later, the Pentagon will confirm that at least five instances of Koran desecration at Guantanamo did indeed occur (see June 3, 2005).
Entity Tags: Richard B. Myers, John Barry, Hamid Karzai, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), Bryan Whitman, Karl Eikenberry, Lawrence Di Rita, Mark Whitaker, Michael Isikoff, Scott McClellan, US Department of Defense, US Southern Command, Richard A. Boucher, Newsweek
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
In an 8-0 ruling, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals dismisses a lawsuit by the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch asking that the court require information to be disclosed from Vice President Cheney’s energy task force from 2001 (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001). The US Supreme Court sent the case back to the appeals court (see April 27, 2004 and June 24, 2004). The appeals court ignores reports from the Government Accountability Office finding that energy executives and lobbyists took part in the task force deliberations (see After January 20, 2001, Mid-February, 2001, March 21, 2001, March 22, 2001, April 12, 2001, and April 17, 2001), and accepts the government’s contentions that the executive branch should not be forced to disclose information about its workings to either the legislative or judicial branches. Because no evidence was submitted that showed the energy executives or lobbyists cast votes or exercised veto power over task force decisions, the court rules, the task force is not obligated to comply with federal laws mandating that such governmental working groups reveal details of their deliberations. The executives and lobbyists are essentially no different than staff aides, the court finds. Cheney’s energy task force was not an advisory committee, and therefore “the government owed the plaintiffs no duty, let alone a clear and indisputable or compelling one,” says the court’s opinion. The court applies the Supreme Court’s standard of law as recommended in the case, a standard far more favorable to the executive branch than any previously applied in the case. Several of the appellate judges will later say that they took the Court ruling to mean that the judiciary should not be involved in a legal struggle with the executive branch. The ruling allows Cheney to keep the task force documents secret, and says that the task force is not bound by the Federal Advisory Committees Act (FACA). [Associated Press, 5/10/2005; Savage, 2007, pp. 176]
'Double Blow' - David Bookbinder, a lawyer for the Sierra Club, says, “The decision is not going to be helpful in assuring open and accountable government.” [Sierra Club, 5/15/2005] He says the ruling is a double blow: “As a policy matter, we see the Bush administration has succeeded in its efforts to keep secret how industry crafted the administration’s energy policy. As a legal matter, it’s a defeat for efforts to have open government and for the public to know how their elected officials are conducting business.” Judicial Watch official Chris Farrell will later say the ruling leaves the open-government laws “a hollow shell.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 176] The New York Times calls the decision “regrettable,” and observes, “The Bush administration hardly needs encouragement to deny public access to vital government information.” [New York Times, 5/15/2005]
Rejected Judicial Precedent - In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write: “The decision relied entirely upon the assertion of two Cheney aides that the lobbyists had not cast any votes, a claim no judge ever verified by looking at the records. The court’s ruling also dismissed arguments that ‘influential participation’ by outsiders made them de facto members of the task force whether or not they cast votes, rejecting the standard the courts had applied to the 1994 Clinton health care task force.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 176]
The Pentagon reports that an internal investigation shows no US guard at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility ever flushed a Koran down a toilet, as Newsweek recently reported. Furthermore, the rioting in Pakistan and Afghanistan that broke out after the report was released and claimed the lives of 17 people was directly sparked by the Newsweek report (see May 6-9, 2005). Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita informs Newsweek that its report is wrong. Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff, the co-author of the report, goes back to his anonymous administration source to confirm the story. However, “the official, still speaking anonymously, could no longer be sure that these concerns had surfaced in the [US Southern Command] report [on prisoner abuse],” Newsweek writes. The story of the Koran being desecrated might have been in other reports, the source tells Isikoff. “Told of what the Newsweek source said, Di Rita explode[s],” the magazine writes. “‘How could he be credible now?’ Di Rita thunders.” National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley says the White House is “vigorously” investigating the report; if true, Hadley says, stern disciplinary action will be taken. Hadley adds that radical Islamic elements in Pakistan and Afghanistan are using the report as an excuse to incite violence. [New York Times, 5/16/2005] Three weeks later, the Pentagon will confirm that at least five instances of Koran desecration at Guantanamo did indeed occur (see June 3, 2005).
The 2005 NPT Review Conference, held once every five years to review and extend the implementation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (see July 1, 1968), is an unusually contentious affair, and the US is at the center of the imbroglio. After the 2000 NPT Review Conference (see Late May, 2000), the US, under George W. Bush, refused to join in calls to implement the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT—see September 10, 1996). The US’s recalcitrance is, if anything, magnified five years later. Many representatives of the NPT signatories focus their ire upon the US, even though two signatories, Iran and North Korea, are, in author J. Peter Scoblic’s words, “violating either the spirit or the letter of the treaty” in developing their own nuclear weapons. Other nations send their foreign ministers to the conference, and in turn the US could have been expected to send Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. (In 1995 and 2000, the US had sent, respectively, Vice President Al Gore and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to represent the US.) Instead, the US sends State Department functionary Stephen Rademaker. Not only is Rademaker’s lesser rank a studied insult to the conference, Rademaker himself is an ardent conservative and a protege of arms control opponent John Bolton. Rademaker enters the conference prepared to use the forum to browbeat Iran and North Korea; instead, he finds himself defending the US’s intransigence regarding the CTBT. The New Agenda Coalition, made up of Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, South Africa, Sweden, and New Zealand—all allies of the US—focuses on “the troubling development that some nuclear-weapon states are researching or even planning to develop new or significantly modify existing warheads,” a Bush administration priority (see May 1, 2001 and December 13, 2001). “These actions have the potential to create the conditions for a new nuclear arms race.” Even Japan, usually a solid US ally, says that all nuclear-armed states should take “further steps toward nuclear disarmament.” Canada, the closest of US allies both in policy and geography, is more blunt, with its representative saying, “If governments simply ignore or discard commitments whenever they prove inconvenient, we will never build an edifice of international cooperation and confidence in the security realm.” And outside the conference, former British Foreign Minister Robin Cook lambasts the US in an op-ed entitled “America’s Broken Unclear Promises Endanger Us All,” blasting the Bush administration for its belief that “obligations under the nonproliferation treaty are mandatory for other nations and voluntary for the US.” For his part, Rademaker says just before the conference, “We are not approaching this review conference from the cynical perspective of, we are going to toss a few crumbs to the rest of the world, and, by doing that, try to buy goodwill or bribe countries into agreeing to the agenda that we think they should focus on rather than some other agenda.” In 2008, Scoblic will interpret Rademaker’s statement: “In other words, the administration was not going to engage in diplomacy even if it would encourage other states to see things our way—which only meant that it was quite certain they never would.” [United Nations, 5/2005; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 277-280]
The Army suppresses an unclassified report by the RAND Corporation, a federally financed think tank that often does research for the military. The report, entitled “Rebuilding Iraq,” was compiled over 18 months; RAND submitted a classified and an unclassified version, hoping that the dissemination of the second version would spark public debate. However, senior Army officials are disturbed by the report’s broad criticisms of the White House, the Defense Department, and other government agencies, and the Army refuses to allow its publication. A Pentagon official says that the biggest reason for the suppression of the report is the fear of a potential conflict with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The unclassified version of the report will be leaked to the New York Times in February 2008. That version finds problems with almost every organization and agency that played a part in planning for the Iraq invasion.
Bush, Rice Let Interdepartmental Squabbles Fester - The report faults President Bush, and by implication his former National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, for failing to resolve differences between rival agencies, particularly between the departments of Defense and State. “Throughout the planning process, tensions between the Defense Department and the State Department were never mediated by the president or his staff,” the report finds.
Defense Department Unqualified to Lead Reconstruction Effort - The report is also critical of the Defense Department’s being chosen to lead postwar reconstruction, citing that department’s “lack of capacity for civilian reconstruction planning and execution.” The Bush administration erred in assuming that reconstruction costs would be minimal, and in refusing to countenance differing views, the report says. Complementing that problem was the failure “to develop a single national plan that integrated humanitarian assistance, reconstruction, governance, infrastructure development and postwar security.” As a result, the report finds, “the US government did not provide strategic policy guidance for postwar Iraq until shortly before major combat operations commenced.”
State's Own Planning 'Uneven' and Not 'Actionable' - It questions the “Future of Iraq” study (see April 2002-March 2003), crediting it with identifying important issues, but calling it of “uneven quality” and saying it “did not constitute an actionable plan.”
Franks, Rumsfeld Exacerbated Problems - General Tommy Franks, who oversaw the entire military operation in Iraq, suffered from a “fundamental misunderstanding” of what the military needed to do to secure postwar Iraq, the study finds. Franks and his boss, Rumsfeld, exacerbated the situation by refusing to send adequate numbers or types of troops into Iraq after the fall of Baghdad.
Strengthened Resistance to US Occupation - The poor planning, lack of organization, and interdepartmental dissension together worked to strengthen the Iraqi insurgency. As Iraqi civilians continued to suffer from lack of security and essential services, resentment increased against the “negative effects of the US security presence,” and the US failed to seal Iraq’s borders, foreign and domestic support for the insurgents began to grow.
RAND Study Went Too Far Afield, Says Army - In 2008, after the Times receives the unclassified version of the report, Army spokesman Timothy Muchmore explains that the Army rejected the report because it went much farther than it should in examining issues pertinent to the Army. “After carefully reviewing the findings and recommendations of the thorough RAND assessment, the Army determined that the analysts had in some cases taken a broader perspective on the early planning and operational phases of Operation Iraqi Freedom than desired or chartered by the Army,” Muchmore will say. “Some of the RAND findings and recommendations were determined to be outside the purview of the Army and therefore of limited value in informing Army policies, programs and priorities.”
Recommendations - The Army needs to rethink its planning towards future wars, the report finds. Most importantly, it needs to consider the postwar needs of a region as much as it considers the strategy and tactics needed to win a war. [New York Times, 2/11/2008]
Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, George W. Bush, New York Times, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Bush administration (43), Thomas Franks, Timothy Muchmore, US Department of State, US Department of the Army, RAND Corporation
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld gathers a group of senior subordinates and warns them to stay away from three senators—John McCain (R-AZ), John Warner (R-VA), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC)—who are drafting a bill to govern the handling of terrorism suspects (see December 30, 2005). A Pentagon official with direct knowledge of the meeting will later recall, “Rumsfeld made clear, emphatically, that the vice president had the lead on this issue.” Though Vice President Dick Cheney has, as he so often has done in the past, ensured that his bureaucratic fingerprints are not on the issue, he has already staked out a hardline position for the White House. This time, it came as a last-minute insert in a July 2005 “statement of administration policy” by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), where Nancy Dorn, Cheney’s former chief of legislative affairs, is deputy director. Cheney’s staff adds, without the required staff clearance, a paragraph to the OMB’s guidance for the 2006 defense appropriations bill (see July 21, 2005). Among those surprised by the position is Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, who for a year has advocated that the US issue clear rules about detention and interrogation of terror suspects. England attempts to clarify the issue (see Late 2005). [Washington Post, 6/25/2007]
The House of Representatives proposes the steepest reduction in hurricane and flood-control funding for New Orleans in history—$71.2 million, or 21 percent. The Bush administration had earlier proposed a $52.8 million reduction for the New Orleans district’s fiscal year 2006 budget. The cut would be the largest single-year spending cut ever incurred by the district. As a result of the expected cut, the local Corps office postpones a study seeking to determine ways to protect the region from a Category 5 hurricane. Additionally, it imposes a hiring freeze and is unable to start any new jobs or award any new contracts. “I’ve been here over 30 years and I’ve never seen this level of reduction,” said Al Naomi, project manager for the New Orleans district. “I think part of the problem is it’s not so much the reduction, it’s the drastic reduction in one fiscal year. It’s the immediacy of the reduction that I think is the hardest thing to adapt to.” One of the hardest hit projects is the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project (SELA). Its budget is being slashed to $10.4 million, down from $36.5 million. The amount is a sixth of what local officials say they need. Funding for levee repairs and other work on Lake Pontchartrain is scheduled to be cut from $5.7 million (see February 2, 2004) this year to $2.9 million in 2006. “We’ll do some design work. We’ll design the contracts and get them ready to go if we get the money. But we don’t have the money to put the work in the field, and that’s the problem,” Naomi says. [New Orleans CityBusiness, 6/6/2005; Editor & Publisher, 8/31/2005; Chicago Tribune, 9/1/2005]
Former Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA), one of the nation’s most respected defense experts, is critical of the Bush administration’s wholesale failure to work to help Russia secure its “loose nukes” (see January 10, 2001 and After and August 2002). “In measuring the adequacy of our response to today’s nuclear threats,” he says, “on a scale of one to ten, I would give us about a three.” Nunn adds that a recent summit between Presidents Bush and Putin moves the US “closer to a four.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 210]
Former director of Israeli intelligence Uzi Arad says that many Israelis were keenly disappointed in the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq and not Iran. Arad says: “If you look at President Bush’s ‘axis of evil’ (see January 29, 2002), all of us said North Korea and Iran are more urgent. Iraq was already semi-controlled because there were [UN-imposed economic] sanctions. It was outlawed. Sometimes the answer [from the Bush neoconservatives] was ‘Let’s do first things first. Once we do Iraq, we’ll have a military presence in Iraq, which would enable us to handle the Iranians from closer quarters, would give us more leverage.’” Arad’s words are almost verbatim echoes from three years before (see Late January 2002). [Unger, 2007, pp. 307-308]
Philip Zelikow, the chief adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (see February 28, 2005) and the former executive director of the 9/11 Commission (see Shortly Before January 27, 2003), writes a classified memo challenging the Justice Department’s legal justifications for its authorizations of torture. Zelikow writes his memo after gaining access to four secret memos from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see April 16, 2009), in his role as Rice’s policy representative to the National Security Council’s Deputies Committee. Rice and her legal adviser, John Bellinger, are the only others besides Zelikow to have been briefed on the memos. Zelikow was aware of what many of the suspected terrorists did, or were alleged to have done, through his experience on the 9/11 Commission. The evidence against most of them is “damning,” he will later write: “But the issue is not about who or what they are. It is about who or what we are.” In the memo, which he will publicly discuss four years later (see April 21, 2009), Zelikow focuses on three main areas of contention.
First, the question should not be whether waterboarding (or any other particular technique) is torture, but on the idea of a program of authorized torture. The program used numerous well-planned, carefully considered methods of physical coercion to gain information from detainees, or as Zelikow will write, “to disorient, abuse, dehumanize, and torment individuals over time.” Waterboarding is only one of many objectionable, and illegal, techniques being used against prisoners.
Second, the question of torture should not first be settled by lawyers. The moral and professional aspects of such an issue should be dealt with before asking lawyers to justify such actions. Better questions would be: Are these methods reliable in getting important information? And does the garnering of such information, even if such can be proven, justify the moral position of using torture? In 2009, Zelikow will write: “There is an elementary distinction, too often lost, between the moral (and policy) question—‘What should we do?’—and the legal question: ‘What can we do?’ We live in a policy world too inclined to turn lawyers into surrogate priests granting a form of absolution. ‘The lawyers say it’s OK.’ Well, not really. They say it might be legal. They don’t know about OK.”
Finally, the legal opinions themselves have what Zelikow calls “grave weaknesses.” Many of the OLC opinions, particularly the May 30, 2005 opinion (see May 30, 2005), “presented the US government with a distorted rendering of relevant US law.” He goes on: “The case law on the ‘shocks the conscience’ standard for interrogations would proscribe the CIA’s methods,” in his view. Moreover, the OLC position ignores “standard 8th Amendment ‘conditions of confinement’ analysis (long incorporated into the 5th Amendment as a matter of substantive due process and thus applicable to detentions like these). That case law would regard the conditions of confinement in the CIA facilities as unlawful.” And, while “the use of a balancing test to measure constitutional validity (national security gain vs. harm to individuals) is lawful for some techniques… other kinds of cruel treatment should be barred categorically under US law—whatever the alleged gain.” The logical extension of the OLC’s position is that since the “substantive standard is the same as it is in analogous US constitutional law… the OLC must argue, in effect, that the methods and the conditions of confinement in the CIA program could constitutionally be inflicted on American citizens in a county jail. In other words, Americans in any town of this country could constitutionally be hung from the ceiling naked, sleep deprived, waterboarded, and all the rest—if the alleged national security justification was compelling. I did not believe our federal courts could reasonably be expected to agree with such a reading of the Constitution.”
White House Orders Copies Destroyed - Zelikow will admit he has no standing to offer a legal opinion. However, he will write: “I felt obliged to put an alternative view in front of my colleagues at other agencies, warning them that other lawyers (and judges) might find the OLC views unsustainable. My colleagues were entitled to ignore my views. They did more than that: The White House attempted to collect and destroy all copies of my memo.” Zelikow will say he believes that copies still exist in State Department archives. [Foreign Policy, 4/21/2009; Politico, 4/21/2009]
A Koran kept for detainees’ use at Guantanamo. The surgical mask is provided to keep the Koran off the floor, and the guards from touching the book. [Source: GlobalSecurity (.org)]The Pentagon confirms that at least five incidents of deliberate and accidental Koran desecration have occurred at Guantanamo Bay. The Pentagon and White House recently denied a Newsweek report of one such incident. Both lambasted the news magazine for printing the claim without what it called sufficent proof, and blamed Newsweek’s reporting for sparking lethal riots in Pakistan and Afghanistan (see May 6-9, 2005 and May 15, 2005). While the Pentagon and White House denunciations of the Newsweek report were timed to garner extensive media attention, the Pentagon report is released to the press and the public at 7:15 p.m. on a Friday, ensuring that it will not make Friday evening newscasts and, as author Frank Rich will later write, “be buried in the weekend papers.” (The Pentagon denies trying to downplay the report.) In the documented incidents, guards stepped on, kicked, and in one case urinated on Korans owned by the detainees. The urination incident is described as accidental—according to the report, a guard urinated near an outside air vent and his urine was caught in the airstream and carried into a prisoner’s cell. The detainee, who was also splashed, was given a fresh garment and a new Koran, and the guard was reprimanded. In another instance, guards throwing water balloons got detainees’ Korans wet. In a third instance, a two-word obscenity in English was written on the inside cover of a Koran, though the investigation could not determine whether a guard or a detainee wrote the phrase. In a fourth incident, an interrogator kicked a detainee’s Koran (see February 26, 2002-March 7, 2002). In a fifth incident, a contract interrogator stepped on a detainee’s Koran during questioning; the contractor is later fired for misconduct. Four other complaints of Koran desecration are not confirmed. “Mishandling a Koran at Guantanamo Bay is a rare occurrence,” says Brigadier General Jay Hood, commander of the Guantanamo Joint Task Force. “Mishandling of a Koran here is never condoned.” Hood says that no evidence of a Koran being flushed down a toilet, as Newsweek reported, has been found. Hood has already been caught in at least one misstatement; he claimed before the report that four of the five instances took place before January 2003, when written procedures covering handling of religious materials were implemented. The report says that four of those five incidents actually took place after January 2003. Captain Jeffrey Weir, a spokesman for the task force, says he cannot explain Hood’s contradictory statement. “Maybe he misspoke,” Weir says. “I’m not sure why he would have put it that way.” Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita says that the Hood report confirms that US guards handle the Koran with respect and dignity. “The Southern Command policy of Koran handling is serious, respectful, and appropriate,” he says. “The Hood inquiry would appear to affirm that policy.” [New York Times, 5/16/2005; Rich, 2006, pp. 166]
On the heels of a speech by President Bush that stated the US government was obtaining court authorizations for each of its domestic surveillance activities (see June 9, 2005), the White House releases a “fact sheet” making the government’s case for its compliance with the law and the efficacy of its actions in “safeguarding our homeland.” The sheet claims: “The judicial branch has a strong oversight role in the application of the Patriot Act. Law enforcement officers must seek a federal judge’s permission to wiretap a foreign terrorist’s phone, track his calls, or search his property. These strict standards are fully consistent with the Constitution. Congress also oversees the application of the Patriot Act, and in more than three years there has not been a single verified abuse.” [White House, 6/9/2005] Bush made almost identical claims a year before (see April 19-20, 2004). Former AT&T senior technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009 and May 2004), who helped install the equipment used by the National Security Agency (NSA) and his firm to intercept foreign and domestic Internet communications (see January 16, 2004), will later say that Bush’s insistence that the administration gets court orders before wiretapping communications is false. AT&T, on behalf of the NSA, was monitoring “billions of messages a second,” Klein will write, all without court orders. [Klein, 2009, pp. 47-48]
Steven Bradbury. [Source: Mark Wilson / Getty Images]Steven Bradbury is nominated by President Bush to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). He will continue in that position on an acting basis into 2008, even though Congressional Democrats refuse to confirm him for the job, and even though his continuation in the post violates the Vacancies Reform Act, which precludes non-confirmed appointees for holding their positions for over 210 days (see October 16, 2007). [Washington Times, 9/20/2007; New York Times, 10/4/2007; TPM Muckraker, 10/19/2007] Bradbury takes over from Jack Goldsmith, who resigned the position under fire (see June 17, 2004).
Arm of the White House - Bradbury has a long history of supporting the White House’s agenda of expansive executive power. He came to the Justice Department after clerking with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and mentoring under former Whitewater special counsel Kenneth Starr. [New York Times, 10/4/2007] A co-founder of the Federalist Society [International Herald Tribune, 10/15/2007] , he is as staunchly conservative as any Bush appointee, but unlike some of the more outspoken of his colleagues, he comes across as low-key, pragmatic, and non-confrontational. As a Justice Department lawyer, Bradbury proved himself in line with the neoconservative views of Vice President Dick Cheney and Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington. Former State Department senior official Philip Zelikow recalls Bradbury as being “fundamentally sympathetic to what the White House and the CIA wanted to do.” Bradbury was brought in to the OLC in part to rein in that office, which under its previous head Jack Goldsmith became the hub of the internal opposition to Bush’s policies of “enhanced interrogation” and domestic surveillance (see Late 2003-2005). In 2005, Bradbury signs two secret Justice Department memos giving broad authorization and legal justification for the CIA’s torture of terrorist suspects (see February 2005 and Late 2005),. Bradbury works closely with then-White House counsel and current attorney general Alberto Gonzales to bring the Justice Department back into line with White House demands. Conservative legal scholar Douglas Kmiec, who headed the OLC under former presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush, says he believes the intense pressures from the current administration’s campaign against terrorism has warped the OLC’s proper role. “The office was designed to insulate against any need to be an advocate,” Kmiec says. Now the OLC has “lost its ability to say no.… The approach changed dramatically with opinions on the war on terror. The office became an advocate for the president’s policies.”
Probation - Bradbury was first considered for the job after Gonzales, newly confirmed as attorney general, rejected the idea of promoting Daniel Levin, the acting head of the OLC after Goldsmith’s departure. Gonzales considered Levin unsuitable for the job because of his independence and support for Goldsmith’s dissents. Instead, Gonzales chose Bradbury for the job. But the White House was uncertain of Bradbury’s reliability, and so placed him on a sort of “internal trial,” monitored by Gonzales’s replacement at the White House, Harriet Miers. Miers judged Bradbury’s loyalty to the president and his willingness to work with Gonzales in justifying White House policy decisions. Bradbury reportedly understands that his “probation” is intended for him to show just how compliant and supportive he is of the White House, and he soon wins the confidence of the White House by completely aligning himself with Addington. [New York Times, 10/4/2007]
'Sordid criminal conspiracy' - Harper’s Magazine commentator and lawyer Scott Horton will write in November 2007 that it is obvious “Bradbury was picked for one reason: to provide continuing OLC cover for the torture conspirators.… The Justice Department’s strategy has been to cloak Bradbury’s torture memoranda in secrecy classifications and then to lie aggressively about their very existence.… This episode demonstrates once more the intimate interrelationship between the policies of torture, secrecy, and the right to lie to the public and the courts in the interests of shielding the Bush administration from public embarrassment. And once more the Justice Department is enlisted not in the enforcement of the law, but rather in a sordid criminal conspiracy.” [Harper's, 11/7/2007]
Entity Tags: Kenneth Starr, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, National Security Agency, Philip Zelikow, US Department of Justice, Steven Bradbury, Scott Horton, Vacancies Reform Act, James B. Comey Jr., Jack Goldsmith, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Harper’s Magazine, Clarence Thomas, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Daniel Levin, Alberto R. Gonzales, Harriet E. Miers, Geneva Conventions, Douglas Kmiec, David S. Addington, George Herbert Walker Bush
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
CNN analyst Donald Shepperd. [Source: New York Times]With criticism of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility reaching new heights, new allegations of abuse from UN human rights experts, Amnesty International receiving plenty of media exposure for calling the facility “the gulag of our times” (see May 25, 2005), and many calling for the facility’s immediate closure, the Pentagon counters by launching the latest in its propaganda counteroffensive designed to offset and blunt such criticism (see April 20, 2008). The Pentagon and White House’s communications experts place a select group of around ten retired military officers, all who regularly appear on network and cable news broadcasts as “independent military analysts,” on a jet usually used by Vice President Dick Cheney, and fly them to Cuba for a carefully orchestrated tour of the facility. [New York Times, 4/20/2008]
A Four-Hour Tour - During the three-hour flight from Andrews Air Force Base to Cuba, the analysts are given several briefings by various Pentagon officials. After landing, but before being taken to the detention facility, they are given another 90-minute briefing. The analysts spend 50 minutes lunching with some of the soldiers on base, then begin their tour. They spend less than 90 minutes viewing the main part of the Guantanamo facility, Camp Delta; in that time, they watch an interrogation, look at an unoccupied cellblock, and visit the camp hospital. They spend ten minutes at Camp V and 35 minutes at Camp X-Ray. After less than four hours in Guantanamo’s detention facilities, they depart for Washington, DC. [Salon, 5/9/2008] This is the first of six such excursions, all designed to prepare the analysts for defending the administration’s point of view and counter the perception that Guantanamo is a haven for abusive treatment of prisoners. During the flight to the facility, during the tour, and during the return flight, Pentagon officials hammer home the message they want the analysts to spread: how much money has been spent on improving the facility, how much abuse the guards have endured, and the extensive rights and privileges granted to the detainees.
Producing Results - The analysts provide the desired results. All ten immediately appear on television and radio broadcasts, denouncing Amnesty International, challenging calls to close the facility, and assuring listeners that the detainees are being treated humanely. Donald Shepperd, a retired Air Force general, tells CNN just hours after returning from Guantanamo, “The impressions that you’re getting from the media and from the various pronouncements being made by people who have not been here in my opinion are totally false.” The next morning, retired Army General Montgomery Meigs appears on NBC’s flagship morning show, Today, and says: “There’s been over $100 million of new construction [at Guantanamo]. The place is very professionally run.” Transcripts of the analysts’ appearances are quickly circulated among senior White House and Pentagon officials, and cited as evidence that the Bush administration is winning the battle for public opinion. [New York Times, 4/20/2008]
Months after the Bush administration successfully convinced the New York Times to hold off publishing its report on the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Early November 2004, December 6, 2005, and December 15, 2005), one of the reporters on the story, Eric Lichtblau, attempts to get a response on the program from one of the few Democrats briefed on it, House Intelligence Committee ranking member Jane Harman (D-CA). In his 2008 book Bush’s Law: The Remaking of American Justice, Lichtblau will write about covering a House hearing where Harman launches into a passionate call for stronger civil liberties safeguards in the reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act (see March 9, 2006). According to his recollection, Lichtblau approaches Harman and says, “I’m trying to square what I heard in there with what we know about that program.” He will write: “Harman’s golden California tan turned a brighter shade of red. She knew exactly what I was talking about. Shooing away her aides, she grabbed me by the arm and drew me a few feet away to a more remote section of the Capitol corridor. ‘You should not be talking about that here,’ she scolded me in a whisper. ’ They don’t even know about that,’ she said, gesturing to her aides, who were now looking on at the conversation with obvious befuddlement.” Harman tells Lichtblau, “The Times did the right thing by not publishing that story,” but will not discuss the details. When asked what intelligence capabilities would be lost by informing the public about something the terrorists already knew—that the government was listening to them—she simply replies, “This is a valuable program, and it would be compromised.” Lichtblau will add: “This was clearly as far as she was willing to take the conversation, and we didn’t speak again until months later, after the NSA story had already run. By then, Harman’s position had undergone a dramatic transformation. When the story broke publicly, she was among the first in line on Capitol Hill to denounce the administration’s handling of the wiretapping program, declaring that what the NSA was doing could have been done under the existing FISA law.” [TPM Muckraker, 3/19/2008]
Washington State businessman Tom McCabe sends a letter to Representative Doc Hastings (R-WA) demanding that he “ask the White House to replace Mr. McKay” for not adequately pursuing the voter fraud allegations in the 2004 gubernatorial race. McCabe is following up on his earlier insistence that US Attorney John McKay of Western Washington State be fired for not pursuing McCabe’s allegations of voter fraud in the race between Christine Gregoire (D-WA) and Dino Rossi (R-WA) to serve as Washington’s governor (see Late 2004 and Late 2004 or Early 2005) after he provided useless “evidence” of voter fraud in the race (see December 2004 and January 4, 2005). (A judge threw out all of the Republican “evidence” of what they called “voter fraud” in his rejection of the claim—see June 6, 2005). McCabe repeatedly and erroneously claims McKay is a Democrat, and accuses him of deliberately failing to pursue the allegations because of his supposed political stance. McCabe sends copies of the letter to John Fund, a conservative editorialist for the Wall Street Journal; former US Attorney and current federal judge Greg van Tatenhove; and Bob Williams of the conservative Evergreen Freedom Foundation (see May 2005). Hastings will later confirm receiving the memo, and will say that he responded, “I flat out refused to do so, which [Hastings’ chief of staff] Ed Cassidy told him in the bluntest of terms.” Cassidy later says that Hastings’ staff did not reply to the letter. Hastings later says he would not have called the White House to complain about McKay because US Attorneys are executive branch matters. No White House official will recall speaking to Hastings about McKay. [Tom McCabe, 7/5/2005 ; TPM Muckraker, 3/7/2007; Seattle Times, 3/7/2007; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; Talking Points Memo, 2011] Cassidy raised the issue with McKay months before and was rebuffed (see January 4, 2005). A 2008 Justice Department investigation (see September 29, 2008) will not name McCabe or his organization, the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW), as the author of the letter. [Tom McCabe, 7/5/2005 ; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]
Entity Tags: Richard (“Doc”) Hastings, John Fund, Tom McCabe, Greg van Tatenhove, John L. McKay, Ed Cassidy, Bob Williams, Building Industry Association of Washington, Bush administration (43), Christine O. Gregoire, Dino Rossi, Evergreen Freedom Foundation
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